Published on April 2nd, 2019 | by James Drew0
‘Katia’s Angels’ at L’Orchidee Blanche
Readers of a certain vintage may fondly recall the 1970s crime caper Charlie’s Angels about an all-female team of crack private detectors, writes Martin Banks.
Well, Brussels has its own version of sorts at this terrific Vietnamese restaurant which also boasts an all-female staff.
You could call them ‘Katia’s Angels’, after Katia Nguyen, who first opened L’Orchidee Blanche way back in 1986.
Actually, there could very soon be a male addition to Katia’s team in the shape of Phong Le, who currently works at a celebrated restaurant in Vietnam.
Katia, on a recent leisure trip back to her homeland, happened to dine at the restaurant, “Six Senses” in Con Dao, and was so impressed by the food that she asked the chef if he fancied working for her.
It didn’t take Phong Le long to say “yes” and the upshot is that both he and Katia hope that he will soon be able to come to Belgium and work his culinary magic at L’Orchidee Blanche.
The much travelled Katie was, it seems, particularly impressed by his talent for infusing his cooking with new ideas and a generally innovative approach to cooking.
If all goes according to plan, he will joining a very loyal and hard working team of ladies, both front of house and in the kitchen, who not only produce great food for those choosing to dine in house but also the restaurant’s very flourishing takeaway trade.
They are certainly kept busy which is testament to the fantastic food and super service that diners are still guaranteed here even after all these years.
Located in a bustling Brussels neighbourhood, Katia admits she could not have imagined what a huge success it would be.
Now, some 33 years later her restaurant is a byword for fine Asian cuisine,so much so that, in 2015, it was awarded the prestige title of ‘Best Asian Restaurant in Belgium’ by that renowned food guide Gault and Millau.
Considering the huge number of Asian restaurants in Brussels, let alone Belgium, that is some accolade but, as anyone who eats here will testify, it is very well deserved.
There are lots of similar places to eat but none, surely, can do it better than this cosy and intimate eatery.
There are several reasons for its success, including the warm décor that greets guests plus the beautiful traditional and very colourful Vietnamese dresses/tunics – “Ao Dai” – worn by the staff.
Worn over the trousers, they lend a very pleasant ambience – and refinement – to the proceedings which brings us to another compelling reason to dine here: the lovely food.
This is spectacularly good and, just as important, the prices are remarkably reasonable (you’d probably pay at least one third more in city centre restaurants).
Katia really does showcase the best of her homeland’s cuisine with a great mix of traditional and contemporary dishes.
Be warned: it is a large menu so you could take a while trying to make up your mind. But the good news is that whatever you opt for, be it meat, duck, fish or veggie dish – you will certainly not be disappointed and your wallet will not be much lighter for the experience either.
When the food is this good it is hard to know what to recommend so, to help, the very friendly staff will help you along the way, going through that day’s suggestions, such as Lau, a hot pot of meat and veg; Banh Cuon Tom (scampi ravioli) and l’assiette Orchidee blanche, which is an assortment of five different items, such as kebab, nem and scampi.
There are also some nice Indo-Chinese specialties though it is mostly South Vietnamese-inspired, food (much of which is cooked in a wok) here.
Mains include fried shrimp, steamed bar, crispy chicken and duck with wraps and a delicious sauce.
Considering the effort that goes into the cooking and quality of the lovely dishes, it is not an exaggeration to say that you are unlikely to get better value for money this side of Vietnam which is most of the staff are from.
There are some very good wines from France and also Spain, Italy,South Africa and Chile and, if you still have room, some mouth watering deserts such as banana in batter or a choice of fresh fruit.
The restaurant, which also boasts a lovely garden, is a perennial favourite (and also does a vibrant takeaway trade across a wide area) but Katia is never one to rest on her laurels, hence her decision to invite the new chef over to introduce new flavours and bring fresh inspiration to what is an already tried and trusted formula.
The plan is to add some more suggestions and get the new man in the kitchen to “show off” his talents.
But, lest anyone be in any doubt, this fine restaurant is currently dominated by a female staff,including Linh, Yi and Huong (plus chefs Bui Trinh and Nguyen Duyen) and has got where it is today through the sheer hard work and devotion of Katia’s Angels.
436 Chaussee de Boondael, Brussels
T. (0)2 647 5621