Belgian 'institution' pays homage to the country's icons

Think of Tintin, the Smurfs, the Atomium and Adolphe Sax and you think of Belgian icons.

Each of these well known Belgian legends now come together in an unlikely setting – a restaurant in Brussels.

The restaurant, Chez Leon, is something of a Belgian institution itself, having existed for well over a century.

During the lockdowns caused by the pandemic, its go ahead owners used their time to refurbish the interior to turn it into something of a shrine to all things Belgian.

Inside you will now find all manner of artefacts and displays with one thing in common: they’re a tribute to some of the best things this country has ever produced.

At the entrance is Tintin’s famous rocket, while, nearby, you will find a big Smurf.

In another corner of the cavernous restaurant is a whole wall featuring a collection of something else Belgium is famous for: comic books.

Elsewhere is a sculpture in the shape of a saxophone in homage to Adolphe Sax, the Belgian-born inventor of the saxophone. You’ll also find a version of the city’s famous Atomium, each ball with a Gaston Lagaffe 'head' in homage to the Belgian comic strip created in 1957 by the Belgian cartoonist André Franquin.

This “mini museum” of Belgian greats is the brainchild of Kevin Vanlancker who is the latest in a long line of Vanlanckers, the Belgian family which has owned Chez Leon for many years.

Kevin thought he’d take advantage of the enforced closure to come up with something a bit different that might appeal to the restaurant’s legions of loyal customers.

It seems the reaction has been highly positive with diners keen to take photos of the many new features that now adorn the restaurant.

Of course, the cuisine remains the most important feature and, on this, the restaurant is as reliable as it always been, serving up great, traditional Belgian dishes at a very reasonable price.

As ever, there’s a big choice, ranging from excellent steaks and meats including Belgian classics like waterzooi, rognons and stoemp au lard to succulent fish dishes which include yet another Belgian “icon”: moules. Vegetarians are also well catered for and there’s a lovely selection of deserts, including crepes “Leon” flambees and Gaufre Leon. There's a Chez Leon beer (very good) and the wine card is equally impressive with some terrific offerings.All, as with the food, are very reasonably priced,especially given the quality.

If you prefer to visit at lunchtime there is a very good, three course lunch menu priced just €18.9 and it is worth noting that, unlike many restaurants, children up to 12 years who are accompanied by their family can eat for free.

If you dine here you should not leave without having a good look around the labyrinthine interior. It’s the only way to really fully appreciate this place!

For all the recent innovations and quality of the cuisine, one of the best things about a visit here is that service really does come with a smile.

Some of the staff here have been working for the Vanlancker family for many years, a sure sign of genuine job satisfaction. There is, for instance,Najim, a chef who’s been here for some 40 years and his fellow Moroccan, Said, a Chez Leon employee for 35 years no less.

The team also includes Valmy, a chef who is a best friend of Kevin Vanlancker with whom he trained at catering school.

The conviviality of the service is summed up by Raul, one of the waiters, who is exceptionally polite and cheerful.

He and his colleagues really do make any visit here one to remember.

Like so many, the restaurant, located just round the corner from yet another Belgian icon – the Grand Place - has suffered massively during the terrible health crisis and customer numbers are still down on what they would normally be. This is partly due to the fact that so few tourists, including from Asia, are in Brussels and Belgium right now due to ongoing travel restrictions.

But every cloud has a silver lining and, in the case of Chez Leon, this has come in the shape of a return of many Belgian customers.

Raul explained that many of its diners currently are Belgian people, saying, “Belgians have come back to support us in these difficult times.”

For a restaurant that is so closely associated with Belgium,that seems entirely appropriate.

Chez Leon, 18 rue des Bouchers, Brussels

02 511 1415

www.chezleon.be

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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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