Published on January 10th, 2022 | by Brussels In View0
Taking a bite out of the Big Apple to realise a lifelong dream
Imagine your favourite place in the world. Then imagine reproducing that place as your place of work.
A dream? It probably is for most of us but that is exactly what one Brussels businessman has done.
For Pierre Val’s favourite is the famous oyster bar in New York’s Grand Central Station.
Having visited the Big Apple (and said oyster bar) three times, he returned to his Belgian home dreaming of doing the same here.
And that is what he has now done at Les Bains, an oyster bar and seafood restaurant in St Gilles.
“Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York is my favourite place in the world and it was my dream to do the same thing here,” says Pierre.
He realised that dream last May when he opened the resto, despite problems caused on the ongoing health pandemic.
The coronavirus crisis had, indirectly, scuppered his previous venture: another restaurant, called Tandem, on the same site.
The place closed after a short spell but, undeterred, Pierre bounced back with Les Bains, a different concept but with the same emphasis on fresh and healthy food.
Pierre is, in fact, living proof that there really is life after the pandemic. Where others may have given up in such circumstances, he remained defiant and is now reaping the rewards.
Aside from allowing Pierre to fulfil his lifelong dream, there’s another fascinating back story to this place.
The man responsible for producing some mouth watering seafood dishes is the same person Pierre, as a young student, used to work for many years ago.
Alexandre Masson, the head chef at Les Bains, was Pierre’s boss at a restaurant in Ixelles and his inspiration for a life in the horeca sector.
At the time, Pierre, now aged 43, was studying communications at l’Universite Libre de Bruxelles but also working as a waiter in eateries.
“To be honest, there was no particular culture for food at home and I learned all I know about the trade from Alexandre,” he recalls.
Alexandre has enjoyed a fine career in horeca, playing a key role in opening the restaurant at Brussels’ famous Atomium. He is also widely credited, no less, as being the man who introduced the now highly popular bistronomy concept to Brussels.
Their paths once again crossed with Pierre looking for someone of Alexandre’s skills to help launch his new business.
Their coming together is a win-win for both: Pierre has someone he can trust in the kitchen and the venture has given Alexandre the opportunity to “go back to his roots.”
Visitors to Les Bains are the fortunate beneficiaries of their link up, with the resto enjoying some rave customer reviews since it opened last year.
Diners are given the chance to choose from either the oyster board, a 4 course offering (clams/grey shrimps; two kinds of oyster; a half Canadian lobster and desert) or a la carte.
The many Brits who live in this delightful part of the city might also like to know that good old fish and chips is served every Tuesday and a very affordable €12.50.
Dishes on the main card can be accompanied by particular wines (as a helpful guide these are listed, along with their prices, in red under each dish). The card also offers a “fish of the day.”
It contains a very nice range of fresh seafood and, of course, oysters, much of which is delivered daily and all expertly prepared by Alexandre.
The wonderful food can be washed down by some equally fantastic wines, with house sommeliere, Laurine Chardel providing some very expert advice and guidance on the list, which includes some quite unusual offerings such as a white wine from North Alsace. This, she explains, is produced on a bio-dynamic site, without any sulphates or herbicides in sight.
The décor is comforting and, along with the fine food, allows for a very pleasant dining experience. The restaurant is situated directly opposite the quite magnificent St Gilles Town Hall (surely the finest in the city) and boasts a 40-seat terrace which is particularly popular in the spring and summer.
Pierre himself is a busy man and still runs a wine bar – “Rubis” – close by which he opened seven years ago.
This area of Brussels is arguably currently best known for the amazing success of the local football team, Union St Gilles (currently top of the Jupiler League).
But Waterloo-born Pierre and his hard working team are doing their best to make sure the area continues to be known for its food as well as football!