Brussels business bounces back despite fears over corona virus

Its been described as the most serious threat to the viability of the Brussels horeca trade since the 2016 terrorist lockdown. One of the new Belgian measures to tackle the corona virus is the restriction on restaurants, cafes and bars. The closure remains in place until 3 April, the beginning of the Easter school holidays.

But, while restaurants have to close, take-away facilities and outlets can still operate and one innovative restauranteur in Brussels plans to make full use of this.

Alex Joseph is, with Thierry Naoum, the owner of Rouge Tomate on Avenue Louise and the news of the lockdown set the pair thinking on how they could maintain some semblance of business for the duration of the enforced closure of restaurants all over Belgium.

Their response is to offer a “takeaway” service every evening, albeit with a reduced menu.

Alex, who is in charge of the restaurant's kitchen, has produced a menu consisting of relatively simple, but nonetheless tasty and flavoursome dishes during the emergency.

These consist of usual favourites like risotto and tartar. As Alex is originally from the United States he had to also come up with that perennial fave: burgers.

You can collect your food directly from the restaurant and will also be able to order it through Uber Eats.

The prices are incredibly reasonable, ranging from about €5 to just €15 so, and let the word get out, there’s some very good value-for-money food going to be available from Rouge Tomate. The card will be available daily from 6pm to 10pm and is called “Rouge Tomate Revisited”, largely because it gives Alex a chance to “revisit” some of the dishes (like burgers) he used to cook when he worked in the U.S. The sophisticated dishes that comprise the usual menu will, of course, return as soon as the lockdown ends but, for now, emergency measures require an emergency response, hence the need for Alex and Thierry to respond as they have.

This all, in fact, rather neatly coincides with a new policy hatched between Alex and Thierry, who takes care of management issues at the restaurant.

The idea is a new “Discovery Menu”, which consists of three courses and is a relative snip at just €29: a real bargain, particularly compared to the prices at most other restaurants in the area.The restaurant, since Alex arrived as executive chef in 2009, has gained a deserved reputation for serving gastronomic, “high end” food but Alex and Thierry decided it was time, irrespective of corona virus, to start to attract some younger diners and are therefore hoping that the new, decidedly affordable, menu will do the trick.

When the restrictions are lifted,the Discovery Menu will be available alongside the usual a la carte and Alex says this will also give diners the chance to get a flavour of gastro-style dishes but at a reduced cost.

The menu will change weekly but, currently, starters include yellowfin tuna tartar and seared foie gras while mains consist of the catch of the day and filet pur with a choice of deserts including sorbet or chocolate mouse.

Don’t forget the great wine selection here which Thierry will very carefully guide you through. Don’t forget, either, the lovely cocktail bar directly above the 80-seat restaurant.

In another slight shift in policy, the pair are also now dealing direct with their producers (rather than going via a wholesaler) which they hope will reduce costs generally, a saving that can be passed on to customers.

To soften the financial blow to the catering sector, the Belgian government announced an exemption from VAT for the financial quarter. "We are well aware that these decisions will have an impact on the economy," the federal government says. Belgium's Council of Ministers has adopted a range of measures to support businesses, including allowing temporary lay-offs due to force majeure, delayed VAT and income tax payments.

The Brussels Hotels Association says hotel occupancy is down 70% on the same time last year. Restaurant bookings are also down 50%-80% according to the Horeca Brussels federation.

Alex insists that as health has to be of paramount importance he cannot dispute the Government’s right to take such drastic action, adding “The restrictions are severe and will have an impact. For instance, we have had to put some staff on short term hours. We had very little time to make these new arrangements but the message we want to get out is that we are open for business and people can still get takeaways or via Uber Eats.

“This is important for people to know and I am sure we can make this work and get through this difficult period,” added Alex, whose typical positive American “can do” attitude is sure to help his business cope with the current situation.

Rouge Tomate

Avenue Louise 190, Brussels

02 647 7044

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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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