Bars

Published on October 13th, 2019 | by James Drew

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Greek eatery Kafenio looks to serve latest eurocrats

The latest wave of eurocrats are starting to arrive in Brussels for when the new European Commission starts on 1 November and, for many, top of their list of discoveries in the EU Quarter should be Kafenio, writes Martin Banks.

After all, it’s what most employees at the EU institutions usually insist on knowing about: where to get a good meal!

Kafenio is a Greek eatery that enjoys a particularly prime location: directly opposite the Commission’s sprawling Berlaymont HQ.

Quite a few of the hundreds of newly arrived civil servants serving in the new executive have, as it happens, apparently already discovered the fine cuisine available at this restaurant.

What they may be unaware of, though, is Kafenio’s fascinating back story. That dates back to the 1950s when a Greek couple left their home near Athens to move to industrial Mons in Belgium in search of work.

Newly arrived in Belgium, Maris worked, like so many migrants to the country at the time, in the coal mines while his wife, Stamatina,opened a taverna.

That went on to be a big success, so much so that Greek people in Brussels would travel there just to sample her lovely Greek food.

Fast forward to 2019 and Kafenio is now overseen by another Maris, the grandson of the couple who first arrived in Belgium all those years ago (he actually runs it with his cousin, also called Maris).

The two Maris’ fathers launched the restaurant in 2002 and have since handed over the day to day running of it to their sons.

The two cousins agree, though, that the inspiration for their entry into the restaurant business comes from Stamatina, who they recall being“a wonderful cook.”

Now run by a third generation, this restaurant really is a genuine family affair.

Little has changed of late but, as someone once said, why change something if it ain’t broke!

The food is top notch, with everything homemade and freshly made on the day. This includes arguably its signature dish, the grilled octopus. People come from Arlon, in the far south of Belgium, once a month just for the octopus,while others travel from Mons –where the Kafenio success story first started – for the same reason.

So, what is the secret of the success of the octopus? Well, according to Maris, it remains just that, a “secret”. He gives nothing away other than to say it is (like the calamari on the menu) freshly delivered each day and “very carefully prepared.”

Too much of octopus served in restaurants tends to be chewy and a tad disappointing. Not so the octopus here!

It is easy to see why it’s in the top three customers favourites: the others are the “Lamb Kokkinisto”, cooked to a typical Greek recipe and at a low temperature, plus the “Bifteki Gemisto”, grilled homemade meat balls stuffed with Kasseri cheese.  All are delicious and, like the rest of the card, very reasonably priced, particularly given the quality.

Notwithstanding the new customers drawn from the nearby EU institutions, Kafenio, which enjoys a chic, modern yet cosy ambience, also has a band of very loyal customers who, understandably, do not like too many changes on the menu. It’s one reason why you will find much the same dishes (apart from the odd change here and there) from one month to the next.

There’s still loads to choose from, including a really mouth watering  assortment of maison de mezzes (hot and cold Greek tapas-style dishes).A top tip is to try a selection of mezes for starters and then sample the lovely lamb, octopus or meatballs as a mains.

Aside from the card there’s also a fixed price menu, “Mega Pikilia” which – again – is a very reasonably prices (min. two persons) and includes scampi, lamb and much else besides.

Also worth nothing are the great wines, many sourced from the Greek mainland and islands.

Kafenio is, in fact, is one of two Greek restaurants owned by the same family. The other is called “Attica” and located nearby on rue de Treves. It’s split into two: one a restaurant (open lunchtime, Mon-Fri) and another serving sandwiches.

Kafenio is situated in the “Brussels Bubble” which, on a Saturday, is often normally deserted. Some restaurants in the area actually close on this day due to lack of trade. Not here!

Don’t be surprised if you see guest after guest having to be turned away because the place is, well, simply full of customers.

That says one thing: people know a good thing when they see it and, when it comes to serving terrific Greek food (in a lovely, relaxing atmosphere and by very attentive staff), Kafenio is a very good thing.

In Greek, Kafenio roughly means “meeting place, a friendly bar where you can have a drink and a bite to eat.”

That neatly sums up this restaurant.

Kafenio
134 Rue Stevin, Brussels
T. +32 (0)2 231 5555

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