Wonder around (as so many tourists do) Brussels’ Quartier de L’Ilot Sacre (“Sacred Island”) and you are still likely to be regaled by waiters trying to lure you into their restaurants.
The practice is actually no longer supposed to take place but such was the impact of the pandemic that some say they’ve little option but to resort to this.
There is one glaring exception, though, where no such touting is remotely needed and that is Aux Armes de Bruxelles, one of the most historic and beautiful buildings in the entire area and also a real culinary institution.
Tradition oozes out of this place and any visit here is real treat.
The area around the Grand Place where it’s located is the most historic part of Brussels and, after years of relative stagnation, has undergone a recent renaissance.
Thanks to the vision and enterprise of local businessmen/women like this restaurant’s owners, L’Ilot Sacre has re-invented itself and is, once again, starting to win back the hearts and minds of Bruxelloises.
Eating here takes you on a trip down Memory Lane. The tables, with their pristine crisp white tablecloths and waiters decked out in classic white jackets reminds one of a glorious chapter in the history of Belgian cuisine when politeness ruled and service and standards were of paramount importance.
Stained glass windows (including an engraving of the resto’s very own “coat of arms”), chandeliers, large framed pictures of the Belgian Royals and lovely wood panelled interior all add to the feeling of stepping back in time.
Founded in 1921 by Calixte Veulemans (look out for the bronze bust of him in the main dining room), Aux Armes de Bruxelles soon became known for its gastronomy, counting everyone from Jacques Brel and Pierre Brasseur to Toots Thielemans and Charles Aznavour among its clients. For years it really was the place to be seen.
Once owned, briefly, by Belgian tycoon Albert Frere and then the Veulemans family (a beer and salad in their name are on the menu), it’s now owned by the Vanlancker family (ownership has now passed to its “new boss”, Kevin Vanlancker) – and this continuity and longevity is undoubtedly one of its strengths. Some of the staff have worked here for many years, a real rarity in horeca.
Its owners take as good care of the people who work there as the customers they serve. For years, it’s had a tremendously loyal customer base and, post pandemic, these regulars have returned in numbers.
Head chef is Cédric Callenaere who has his own fascinating story to tell: he used to frequent this resto as a child with his parents and it’s where his dream of becoming a chef was born.
The very large a la carte is unashamedly traditional – tradition counts for an awful lot here – featuring some classic French/Belgian meat and fish dishes. The products remain exceptional. Among the specialties, perfectly executed, are the mussels and snail mussels, a long standing speciality of the house, sole from the North Sea and poached cod.
The meat choice is equally impressive and equally tasty, including duck, carre d’agneau, cote de veau and a selection of excellent steaks, many sourced from that redoubtable Belgian butcher Dierendonck. You can round things off – if you still have the room – by selecting any one of the fine deserts which include a plate of cheese, tarte au sucre, crepe and, of course, crème brulee.
There’s also a couple of 3-course fixed price options (€38.50 and €49.50) plus a €15 kids menu and business lunch (2 courses at €24 and 3 courses at €27). Its signature dishes are indicated on the 5-page card by a green triangle.
On the drinks list, you will find some great beers from Belgium (where else!) and you will also be spoilt for choice from a superb wine selection.
It recently celebrated its 100th anniversary and many will raise a toast to the next 100 years.
Aux Armes de Bruxelles, 13 Rue des Bouchers, Brussels 02 511 5550
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