Published on August 11th, 2020 | by James Drew0
Catch some great dim sum at Brussels’ old fishing market
The Brussels restaurant scene has been decimated by the health pandemic and there’s hardly a resto that has not been affected. That is the negative and depressing news. But, thankfully, there is another, more uplifting, side to the current health crisis and that is the resilience and determination of a lot of restaurant owners to overcome the huge problems they currently face, writes Martin Banks.
One such excellent example are the owners at Dam Sum, which has two branches in Brussels. Dam Sum at Place Catherine in Brussels has shown remarkably resoluteness in fighting back from a crisis that has seen some restaurants go to the wall. The restaurant, serving arguably the best dim sum in town, is currently trying to fight back from the crippling impact of the health pandemic. It has not been easy.
Ensuring the health of its diners is a top priority, of course, and an important subject that has been seriously addressed here. With respect to the new measures recently announced by the Belgian government, all guests (it is optional for children under the age of 12) in the two Dam Sum restaurants in Brussels (the other is in Ixelles) are required to wear a mask when not sitting down at their table. Also, it is obligatory to keep a register of customers, one reason why they prefer reservations only now so as to then keep customer contact details on file for contact tracing purposes. The restaurant, located at the heart of the city’s historic old fishing market, is not able to provide paper menus at the moment but that is a relatively minor thing. This does not detract one bit from the pleasures that can be found on the said menu.
For the uninitiated, dim sum is a style of Chinese cuisine prepared as small bite-sized portions of food served in small steamer baskets or on small plates. There cannot be any better place in Brussels to try it than here. Examples include Xiao Long Bao Pork, a delicate pork dim sum with soup inside – one of the signature dishes. Another classic is Xiao Long Bao Wagyu Beef, the world-renowned beef. Also recommended from the choice of dim (or “dam”) sum are Chao Sou (steamed beef dumpling in vinegar sauce); Har Gao (a translucent shrimp classic); Xiao Long Bao crab and pork (pork and fresh crab with soup inside). In each case, the dish comprises three pieces and, particularly considering the quality, is remarkably good value. A top tip is to order a few, say 4 or 5, of these dishes and share them around the table. They are pretty filling but it would be a shame not to also sample something else off the menu and, again, there is a great choice. There are four soups including Wanton Soup (a refreshing dim sum soup with shrimp) which you can order as a medium or large portion.
The same principle also applies to the five excellent selections in the mains section which include Gom Bao chicken (wok fried chicken with peanuts and spicy oil sauce); black pepper beef; sweet and sour pork and crispy lemon chicken (chicken strips tossed in a tangy sweet lemon sauce).Also on the menu is pineapple chicken fried rice, a Singapore classic with chicken, pineapple and raisins. All is prepped in the open kitchen. There is a nice choice of drinks, including the Dam Sum IPA which is the perfect accompaniment to the delicious food. The two restaurants have a different clientele: the Ixelles resto relies on the locals more than its sister in Pl. Catherine which has, since it opened two years ago, pulled in many of the tourists who flock to this part of the city.
The problem right now is that there are very few tourists in Brussels because the coronavirus crisis and that, in turn, has created problems for restaurants everywhere. One solution here has been to introduce a special “wheel of fortune” event every other week (every Friday and Saturday) with prizes for the winner. It is an innovative approach and shows the extent to which owners now have to go to maintain business in such troubled times. Valerie, the very welcoming manager here is, herself, a fascinating person. Her father is from Haiti who came to study in this country and married a Belgian. Valerie is always on hand to explain the menu and lots of other interesting things about Dam Sum and the neighbourhood. The two restaurants, both of which open 7/7, have the same menu but a different staff and chef. One thing you can be assured of at both though is a friendly welcome and some terrific Asian cuisine.
Quai au Bois à Brûler 51, Bruxelles
T. +32 (0)2 446 0786