Feeling peckish but don’t have time to sit down for a fabled 180-minute Belgian ‘lunch hour’? We check out some of the best places in Brussels to grab a quick, and healthy, bite to eat.
Let’s face it, three-hour lunches are a luxury that few Brussels working stiffs ever enjoy. When you have a dozen deadlines to meet, paperwork piled up on your desk, a boss barking at you for that report due the day before yesterday, and a splitting headache to boot, who has time to think about food, right?
Wrong! There’s absolutely no reason you have to sacrifice your health, as there are plenty of nifty spots in the Belgian capital where you can grab a nutritious lunch in a hurry.
Here a few of our favourites, although this is by no means an exhaustive list. If you know of any places you think would interest our readers, please let us know. Bon appetit!
The place at the end of the Galeries St.-Hubert shopping arcade can be overcrowded despite the recent expansion and the sometimes surly service a bit off-putting, but it’s hard to find anyone who has been here who does not rave about the yummy, reasonably priced quiches and cakes. The quiches themselves – spinach and feta cheese or spinach and liver to name just a couple – are quite filling. If your stomach is still growling after that, try one of the devilishly delicious desserts. This is heaven for vegetarians, but not a veg-only place. The Art Deco decor is pleasant enough, but often goes unappreciated by hungry throngs in search of a wholesome meal for around EUR 10, including beverages. As one regular customer says, “It’s great value for money.” Definitely something to tell your friends about.
Rue d’Arenberg 1B, telephone 02 513 3343, open from 7 a.m.-11 p.m. 7 days a week.
Rue Antoine Dansaert 19, telephone 02 503 0330. Open 12 p.m.- 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.-11 p.m. every day. www.comocomo.com.The name means ‘How do I eat?’ and the answer is refreshingly unique: with your fingers, from brightly-coloured plates that you grab from a conveyer belt. This Basque tapas eatery that opened in the trendy rue Antoine Dansaert in early 2003 is based on the same principle of many sushi bars, except here the pintxos are colour-coded by food rather than price: “veggies” are green, “cheesies” are yellow, you get the idea. This is no bargain place – individual portions are pretty small, though there’s a midday menu of EUR 12 for six pintxos – but if you’re out with a group of friends or colleagues this is one of Brussels’ most innovative lunch spots. All 50 dishes are also available for takeout at EUR 2 each, but it’s much more fun to sit down and grab the yummy dishes going by; you can also select anything you want from the menu, and the cooks get to work right away. “The more you eat, the cheaper it gets per unit,” advises Sebastian Sanchez-Peña, one of five owners. There are numerous menu options, and based on the number of plates you return the appropriate menu is applied.
Seven locations in Brussels including Rue Neuve 78, Chausée d’Ixelles 12 and Chaussée de Charleroi. For a full list of locations and opening hours see www.exki.beRight down to the cutlery made of biodegradable vegetable fibres, this feel-good chain is the king of politically correct fast healthy food in Brussels. All their tasty soups, salads and sandwiches are made with organic ingredients clearly listed on all packages, and sandwiches are made with veggie tapenades instead of mayonnaise or butter. Exki admits its products are about 10% more expensive than fast food, but the price appears to be well worth it. The cafeteria-style restaurants aren’t exactly oozing in atmosphere but that’s not the reason patrons come here. Heat up the veggie lasagne or quiches yourself in an on-site microwave, eat on the premises or grab it to go. Everything is made fresh daily, and after 5 p.m. all sandwiches are marked down 20% to make room for the next day’s goodies. Unlike your average salty snack, there’s no need to feel guilty about munching organic tortilla chips!
This new bright spot on Avenue de la Toison d’Or, conveniently located near the UGC cinemas and shopping, is the first and hopefully not last Brussels location for an Antwerp-based franchiser which aims to ‘offer a gastronomical experience based on balanced, fresh and natural products’. This particular place, which opened this autumn, is very similar to Exki in look and price but claims to offer more variety. Salads priced at EUR 2.95 include out-of-the-ordinary bulgur mix, couscous and a quinoa-nut-raisin-apple combo. Order soups and sandwiches a la carte, or try the daily lunch menu of soup, sandwich and soft drink or juice, salad and fruit for EUR 5.45. The wide beverage selection includes fresh fruit and veggie juices, Twinings brand iced tea and health drinks that purport to improve concentration and harmonise metabolism – and about half a dozen different 25cl single-serving bottles of wine for those who cannot resist.
Avenue de la Toison D’or 4, telephone 02 530 1101. Open 7:30 a.m. -10 p.m. Monday-Saturday. For more information about the company see www.thefoodmaker.com
Opened by the Arkoulis family in November 2002, this two-storey Greek brasserie is a bustling place open from 8 a.m. until midnight 7 days a week strategically located across the street from the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters. Pick and choose from the cold and hot starters like grilled courgettes or chickpea salad (EUR 3.50 each), or splurge on an octopus salad (EUR 6.95) or grilled octopus (EUR 6.95). Those more in the mood for a big fat Greek meal should go for the house specialities boulettes de Smyrne, beef and pork meatballs swimming in tomato sauce (EUR 9.00) or the moussaka (EUR 9.00). Greek coffee is prepared the traditional way – in hot sand, about a five-minute process; the owners promise that it’s not too strong. With seating for about 120, including a non-smoking section upstairs, Kafeneio is one of the EU area’s biggest eateries. All dishes are prepared fresh every day, on display behind glass – and available for take-out at a discount to the restaurant price.
Rue Stevin 134, telephone 02 231 5555, fax 02 231 5556. Open 7 days a week, 8 a.m.-midnight.
La Baie d’Ha-Long
It’s not surprising that this Vietnamese lunch eatery, taken over by Ho Chi Minh City native Duong-Hon Long in January 2003, is always full: the portions are a good size, reasonably priced, prepared fresh daily – and always served with lightning speed. There’s a daily lunch special for EUR 6.90 featuring a spring roll and plate of the day with rice or noodles, or an à la carte menu featuring dishes such as chicken with mango or cashew nuts, tofu and sautéed vegetables and beef or scampi platters. Long never uses frozen ingredients except for the scampi, which is imported from Alaska and Bangladesh; everything else comes from Belgium. Take a meal to go, grab a seat, or call/fax by 11:30 a.m. for lunchtime delivery.
Rue Archimède 41, telephone/fax 02 734 5438. Open Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. but available for private catering evenings and weekends.
Walk into this relatively small joint near the Bourse at lunchtime and you’ll be overwhelmed by the humidity from all the noodles. With every main course below EUR 10, this no-nonsense eatery that serves up heaped plates of Oriental noodle and rice dishes is a must for hearty appetites and small budgets. Try the noodles or rice with scampi for EUR 7.80 or splurge on phat thai for EUR 8.20. The place can get cramped, but all dishes are also available for a steamy take-out.
Rue des Poissonners 4, telephone 02 512 8471. Open from noon until 10 p.m. every day.
Tartine & Moi
Salads from this cosy little eatery across the street from the Justus Lipsius building in the EU district will satisfy the largest of appetites: there are eight different kinds, priced at EUR 6.00 for take-out and EUR 8.60 for eating on the premises. Innovative and fresh, the 500-gram hearty portions include the popular Greek salad featuring feta and tomatoes, or a Roquefort cheese-ham-almond concoction. Sandwiches are served on several types of bread cooked on the premises, ranging in price from EUR 2.40 for a Gouda sandwich to EUR 3.60 for a mozzarella-tomato-parma ham combo. There’s also hot comfort food like spaghetti carbonara and lasagne – also available for take-out in handy aluminium containers. Get a frequent-eater card and get the 16th sandwich free. Owner Marilyn Van-Riet also gives credit towards the discount for non-sandwich purchases, but says that the freebie at the end is always a sandwich.
Rue Froissart 137, telephone/fax 02 280 4100. Open Monday-Friday 8 a.m. -4 p.m. or until last customer.