A great British tradition goes down a treat - in Belgium

Here's a good pub question: What did Michael Jackson, Churchill and John Lennon have in common?

Apart from a rightful claim to iconic status, of course, a much less well known answer is that each was a fan of good old fish and chips.

This relatively humble and slightly maligned dish was, until recently, also something of an unknown quantity here in Belgium.

But, partly thanks to a couple of enterprising young men,Barry Wallace and Simon Whiteside, that has all changed.

Bia Mara, with two fish and chip eateries in the city, has spread the word about this lovely British tradition to a wider audience.

The first one opened by Barry and Simon near the Grand Place in Brussels with a second launched close to Antwerp’s cathedral. A third opened in Place de Londres, close to the European parliament,followed by a fourth, in Leuven.

The concept has really taken off and proved a hit, both with British/Irish expats and lots of other nationalities.

For those unfamiliar with it, Bia Mara is a fish and chip eatery with a slight difference.

Unlike the sad, often stodgy stuff served at similar outlets in the UK this place offers “spicy” fish, an innovative twist on the more traditional version served in Blighty.

It’s a short menu and the two customer favourites are the “classic panko” along with the lemon basil infused tempura.

The main difference between the two is the thickness of the batter but both are very good.

The panko is coated with a light Japanese breadcrumb that creates a thin, crusted coating while the tempura has a light Japanese batter which, here, is infused with a zest of citrus.

There are three other options: whole fried sea bream (be warned: this is unboned); lime mint and wasabi and, lastly, a fish served the “Argentinian style”.

The card also contains one veggie dish and a couple of chicken options. All the sauces (and there are some fiery tasting ones!) are homemade and the fish comes with lovely seaweed-salted chips. Try not to leave without sampling the lovely tacos while a small portion of either the hot squid and octopus (or better still, both) is a great way to start a meal. It all makes for a lovely outing and the prices are very  reasonable indeed.

The name of the daily fish catch is displayed on the walls as are the selected wine/beers (look out for a very good German red).

The owners take particular pride in using, where possible, only seasonal fish and none of the fish used here has travelled far as it comes from the North Sea. The business only works with small scale fish operators.

Combined with some great Belgian beers you can see why this place has elevated eating fish and chips to a new level.

The interior, made up of comfortable wooded top tables, is not large but there is also seating outside, a real plus with the better weather now upon us.

Among the staff is the very friendly Polish-born Izabela Czarna who will carefully explain the menu and is responsible for a modest but very pleasant plant display. She worked here since it opened and has charted its rise in popularity. She said, “At first, it was not so obvious we were here but, once word got around, it really took off.”

The Pl de Londres address  caters more for the EU community (the parliament is just round the corner) while the city centre venue is most frequented by tourists.

The owners say they could not believe the reaction to their food at first but, after a few months of opening, they were full of people giving very positive feedback. It wasn’t long before they also had some great reviews in some top publications.

Given the lovely and affordable food that should not come as any surprise - not even to Jacko!

Bia Mara

Place de Londres, Ixelles

02 513 7274

www.biamara.com

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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