Imagine opening a new restaurant just when many others are closing due to the worst health pandemic in living memory.
That is exactly what one restaurant owner in Brussels did last autumn, at a time when the horeca trade was possibly being worst impacted by the ravages of the coronavirus crisis.
One resto after another was closing and the pandemic’s spin off effects may, tragically, have contributed to the recent shock death of one of the city’s best known restauranteurs.
But, undeterred, Renaud Waeterloos, the owner of Il Gastronomico, ploughed on with his dream of launching a fine dining resto.The result is a lovely, cosy eating place which, about six months on, is now starting to get a reputation for its excellent cuisine.
It is located next to a more informal café that the owner had operated for over 20 years (he also owns a popular bistro, Zotte Mouche, or “Crazy Fly” nearby).
With the Grand Place just around the corner, the resto offers either a traditional a la carte or a choice of either 5 or 7 courses (and a “menu gastronomic”).
By far the most popular is the 5 course menu whose contents are usually left to the imagination of the restaurant’s acclaimed head chef, Michel Wahaltere.
Considering the very high quality, the prices are very affordable with dishes on the main card starting from just €18, for instance.
Previously, a relatively humble café, the resto has now been transformed and bears no resemblance to its former appearance. Not that you would necessarily notice this immediately, given the relatively modest façade on the busy street outside.
But, once inside, guests cannot but be impressed by chic and smart look of the place, including chandeliers and beautifully arranged, white cloth tables.
The service is top notch too, all overseen by Dirk Vanhooren who takes charge of things front of house.
The all important cooking is marshalled by the very highly talented and much travelled Michel, who is now back in Belgium, his birthplace, after a long stint working in the United States.
His motto? “We love it when people are happy with their food,” he declares, adding, “that is my job.”
Well, you can only say that Michel (ably supported by Mohamed Khalil) is very good at his job.
This, maybe, should not come as a surprise as he has a very good track record too.
He first learned the basics of his craft by studying at a top Belgian cookery school before moving, at the ripe old age of just 24, to the U.S when he worked in restos in Los Angeles, Aspen and New York.
After an “appeal” by his mother, he returned to Belgium in 2015, working at the well known Belga Queen in Brussels and then, for two years, at the Metropole Hotel whose recent closure (yet another horeca victim of the pandemic) he calls “tragic.”
He was asked by the Gastronomico owner if he wanted to help with its launch and, having agreed, says he is now given a “free hand” to produce the terrific dishes he does.While Michel says the U.S experience was great and he misses his friends there, he’s more than happy to now be involved with this new venture at Il Gastronomico.
Much of the produce and ingredients that goes into the cooking is locally sourced with the veal, for instance, coming from Flanders.
Diners get the chance to see the master chef at work as the small space he works in directly adjoins the seating area. You can almost touch the ingredients as some are stacked up on a counter a short distance from where you seat.
Watching him at work makes you aware of the sheer effort and concentration invested in the food that appears on your plate.
Some recommended dishes include the pasta with truffle, veal fillet (served with parsnip and Japanese mushrooms) and smoked duck with ginger, pineapple and foie gras – all are delightful whatever you choose.
Seating about 18, it is all very intimate and contrasts sharply with the noise and bustle in the café next door. The €39, 3 course lunch menu is a real snip.The kitchen as well as décor is all new and many people may, as yet, be unfamiliar with this new name on the city’s culinary landscape. But it’s getting some great reviews so check it out soon: it is well worth a visit.
Rue de la Fourche 55, Brussels
02 307 6249
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