I know that this is a London food blog (it says so right in the tagline – “fine dining on a budget in London”) but my recent experience at La Clef des Champs in Brussels was too good not to write about. I share my experiences here in the hope that somebody planning a trip to Brussels will stumble across this post and give the restaurant some serious consideration.
Not that this is necessary, though – they seem to be doing fine on their own. They are currently rated first on Toptable and third on Tripadvisor for restaurants in Brussels. We booked through Toptable as the reviews were reassuring, and the menu contained lots of things that we wanted to try for a rather pleasing €33 for three courses.
Esgarcot falls into the category of “things that we wanted to try” as neither of us had had them before. I’m glad that we did; we almost chickened out as I was slightly ill and it was cold outside (I know, that’s not an excuse), but once we were inside and warm again, our confidence was boosted. We were also slightly drunk, having been sat in a bar around the corner drinking Bloody Marys for over an hour, so that probably played a part too.
We were given a large table to ourselves, close to the window. Perhaps the fact that we booked over a week in advance had something to do with it. The interior was quite nice – it’s not a large restaurant by any means, and the decoration isn’t over-the-top. I think that “cosy” sums it up nicely, and I mean that with no hint of sarcasm or double-meaning.
The waiters were fantastic. They spoke excellent English (our French is very poor so this was a great help) and happily explained the menu to us. They made everything sound so delicious (“the apple pie has been freshly baked this morning…”) - after their explanations I found myself wanting things that previously I had not considered. They also managed to somehow go undetected whilst filling up our glasses throughout the meal; we never had to pour our own wine, but rarely noticed our glasses being filled. They seemed to refill themselves as if by magic. They were good – never before have I felt so strongly about leaving a decent tip.
We were given antipasti of crostini with peppers and olives – a nice start to the meal, as we were (as always) pretty hungry by this point. We ordered some wine – a Bordeaux, I believe – which, considering it was one of the cheapest on the menu, was quite expensive at over €30. I also didn’t care for it that much, but then again I don’t really care for French wine.
As mentioned previously, I am so glad that we plucked up the courage to order the snails. Just looking at this photo is making me salivate. The texture was nothing like I expected, and the taste was of pure butter and garlic. Like having steak tartare in Paris, this was an eye-opener for me – I thoroughly enjoyed it despite being, perhaps expectedly, somewhat hesitant. I guess that I’m just more willing to try new things these days (I don’t like the idea of missing out on something great).
As usual, we split our starters. The above photo is of our “safe choice” of chicken liver terrine. It came with toasted bread as you would expect, and was delicious. I found myself dipping the bread in the holes in the snail dish to get it good and garlicky before smearing with the terrine. Fantastic.
We both went for the steak tartare. We had to. We’d been craving it since Paris (which was a few months ago) and couldn’t resist it. I’m glad we did, because this was especially good. The egg yolk appeared to have been mixed into the mince before being served – or at least, that is the impression that the texture gave me. It was served with the usual accompaniments of chopped raw onions, capers, parsley, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco.
It was pure flavour and I couldn’t get enough.
The chips were fantastic too; hot, oily, and with plenty of mayonnaise to dunk them in. They brought us way too many and we had to leave the best part of the bowl (we had to prioritise and the steak tartare won).
It turned out to be €0.50 cheaper to order dessert (i.e. the three course set menu) vs. just a starter and main a la carte, so we were ordering dessert whether we wanted to or not. Luckily, the dessert menu sounded fantastic and I wanted at least four things – rare for me, as I usually skip dessert when eating out.
I went for the bavarois made from iced cointreau soufflé. I wasn’t entirely clear on what bavarois was and the waiter was more than happy to explain. It was fantastic; so light, so creamy, a texture somewhere between cake and ice cream, and it left your mouth tasting of Cointreau.
Nuhar had pancakes tossed in Grand Marnier – more orangey goodness, and they were also delicious.
The bill (excluding service, which was not added on by default) came in at just under €100. This is an absolute bargain. If we ever go back to Brussels then I’m pretty sure that we would go back. When the food is this good, how could we not?
N.B. This is a two-part blog post. You can read my mini-rant about why Brussels is so great as a food lover’s destination here.
Update 2012: Due to the unfortunate personal circumstances of the owner, La Clef des Champs is no longer open.