Published on January 13th, 2020 | by James Drew0
Aux Armes De Bruxelles – A classic restaurant
It’s a conundrum facing many restaurant owners everywhere: how to change with the times, writes Martin Banks.
The puzzle is even more difficult for old established eateries that need to attract a new generation of customers while at the same time not alienating the older regulars.
Thankfully, some are making a real fist of that challenge and none more so than Aux Armes De Bruxelles, located just round the corner from the Grand’Place and one the grand old dames of the city’s restaurant scene.
After successfully meeting the eating needs of its band of very loyal customers for decades, it’s tried something a bit different.
It has split the large restaurant into two parts: one half, the brasserie-style part, now has a distinctly informal feel to it.
Guests can sit on benches in the “compartment-type” middle section where you won’t find tablecloths necessarily but, instead, a rather more chilled ambience.
Seating up to 46, this area, very close to the open kitchen, is considered perhaps better for folk who might be put off by a more “formal” approach.
Regulars need not despair though because that touch of formality and the traditional is still very much available in the “second section”.
Seating up to 50, here you will find more traditional table dressings and a classic décor notable for opulent curtains, chandeliers and stained glass.
The idea is to try to make sure that the restaurant appeals to all types and all occasions.
That applies whether you’re the kind who likes to get dressed up for a meal out and a bit of old fashioned “pomp and ceremony” or, rather, a more laid back, brasserie-style approach.
The two “parts” of the restaurant have their own, very distinctive atmosphere, with the aim being to make the place as accessible as possible.
It is all about ensuring that, however grand its history may be, the business stays ahead of the game and keeps the next generation of guests happy.
The good news is that, whatever your preference, the food here is just the same: very, very good.
Of course, the latest people overseeing the kitchen have a lot to live up to. You have to remember this is where mussels were served for the first time in a pan in Brussels and it is the “birthplace” of some emblematic Belgian recipes such as pancakes flambéed with Mandarin Napoleon.
Today, proud of this prestigious gourmet heritage, current head chef Cédric Callenaere is in charge of a particularly impressive menu which is large, both physically and in terms of choice.
There are some fine Belgian-Belgian specialties but also great daily suggestions inspired by market availability.
They all have one thing in common, though: freshness and flavour.
The products do, indeed, remain exceptional. Among the chef’s specialties, perfectly executed, are mussels and snail mussels, a speciality of the house, sole from the North Sea and poached cod.
The meat choice is equally impressive and just as tasty and includes duck, carre d’agneau, cote de veau and a selection of excellent steaks.
You can round things off – if you still have the room, that is – by making a selection from the fine deserts which include a cheese plate, tarte au sucre, crepe and crème brulee.
There’s a €34 kids’ menu (kids up to 12 eat for free), a 2-course suggestions card changing monthly, plus two fixed-priced menus.
On the drinks list, you will find some great Belgian beers and (as with the food) will be spoilt for choice from the top notch wine selection (the very helpful staff will happily guide you through the choice).
For Cédric, the job is something of a dream come true. He used to frequent this place as a child with his parents and this, he says, is where his dream of becoming a chef was first born.
Little could he have realised back then that, one day, he’d return, not as a diner, but the man in charge of maintaining the same high standards of his predecessors.
The same applies to Pascal whose grandmother used to treat him to lunch here when he was a kid and who is now its head waiter.
The restaurant was actually founded way back in 1921 by Calixte Veulemans (a bust of him is on display in the restaurant and there’s a beer, cocktail and salad named after him) and it soon became known for its gastronomy, counting everyone from Jacques Brel (there’s still a “Brel Table” in the restaurant) and Pierre Brasseur to Toots Thielemans and Charles Aznavour among its clients. For years it really was the place to be seen.
Since the 1970s, the city’s historic l’llot Sacre – Sacred Island – has experienced mixed fortunes, though. Everything from the lockdown, triggered by the terrorist atrocity in 2016 to the practices of the “racoleurs”, who used to tout for business outside restaurants, contributed to a steady decline in the area’s image.
That has all changed here, though, largely thanks to current owner Rudy Vanlancker who is successfully steering this wonderful establishment into a new and exciting chapter in its long history.
He also owns Chez Leon (which celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2018) located opposite and one of the most popular eateries in Brussels.
Aux Armes de Bruxelles
13 Rue des Bouchers, Brussels
T. +32 (0)2 511 5550