Brussels culinary institution still going strong

The word “institution” is terribly over used these days but it is entirely appropriate when speaking about Chez Leon.

This was most recently recognised when this venerable Brussels restaurant landed a VisitBrussels award in recognition of the authenticity of its cuisine.

The prestigious “Brusselscious” food label is given by the city’s tourist authorities only to those places that make an effort to promote genuine Belgian/Brussels cuisine. And there is certainly no question about the authenticity of the food served now and down the years at Chez Leon.

One thing about Chez Leon is that it is,indeed, an authentically excellent place to eat genuine Belgian food as is evidenced by the scores of locals and tourists who flock through its doors all the time.

But, so rich in history is the place, that dining here is also like taking a step back in time.

Situated adjacent to Brussels’ Grand Place, arguably Europe’s finest public square, it dates right back to the middle of the 19th century when it was, basically, a chip shop.

Its rise since has been amazing which even two world wars couldn’t stop (amazingly, it was closed for only 19 days in WW1 and two months in WW2).

This iconic restaurant is currently run by Kevin Vanlancker whose family have owned Chez Leon from the very start.

Over the years it’s attracted all manner of stars and celebrities, ranging from Herge, the Belgian who invented Tintin, to French singing icon, Johnny Halliday. There are even plaques on the walls notifying where its celebrity customers have sat.

The thousands who have followed suit today, not least people from Asian who account for some 30 per cent of its clientele, are all lured for the same reason: fantastic food served in an equally fantastic atmosphere.

Specialities include shrimp croquette and mussels which (along with its frites) have made the place famous.

But there’s a vast range of other meat/fish dishes on the extensive a la carte that are sure to tempt. It’s not just the typically Belgian food that’s so good – so too are the portions and prices,some of which are ridiculously cheap for food of such good quality.

Just watching its small army of waiters interacting with the chefs is, in itself, a sight to behold. The whole operation is run with military-style precision and is very impressive, as is the service.

A good starting point for those wishing to learn more about the wonderful history of this place are the place mats on tables that provide a terrific and very detailed dateline of its past.

Try not to leave without taking a tour of its various rooms, each bursting with historical detail. One of the helpful waiters may even give an informal tour!

It has relatively humble beginnings but is now a “must visit” spot on the itinerary for visitors to Brussels and makes for a wonderful place to eat for anyone visiting the Grand Place just round the corner.

Over the years the restaurant has gradually expanded (it can now seat about 500 people) and is now, with its various rooms and corridors, each heaving with history, is a real treasure trove of which Brussels – and Belgium – can be proud.

Another bonus is that kids up to the age of 12 eat free but, really, you don’t need a reason to visit Chez Leon. Just entering the place is like being transported to a golden age. Recommended.

Chez Leon

Rue des Bouchers, Brussels

02 511 1415

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today. 

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

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