When Basque Frenchman Martin married the daughter of the brasserie’s owners, he stepped on board the family business with a most impressive history. Men from the livestock market and abattoir across the street have been coming to La Paix since 1892, especially for a freshly tapped pint and a good piece of meat. In that respect, not much has changed.
The place still has an old-fashioned feel to it, with basic wooden tables and an airy, relaxed atmosphere: an elegant brasserie with the character of a cafe. Businessmen in suits fill up one table, casual-clad workers take up the next.
In the heart of Anderlecht, one of Brussels’ most multicultural neighbourhoods, La Paix has a few modern touches now, including an immaculate open kitchen and a very creative menu. Even after La Paix was given its Michelin star in 2009, it didn’t lose sight of its roots. The focus, after all, is on the food.
It’s a hot and humid Thursday afternoon when my companion and I arrive, so we start with a cold bottle of sparkling water. Our friendly and knowledgeable server points out the day’s suggestions and lunch menu, but we’ve got our hearts set on ordering à la carte. It’ll be one carpaccio of Breton langoustines and one vitello anguilo for starters, followed by calf ’s sweetbreads and américain for our mains.
Before the starters arrive, we are presented with a frosty glass of goat’s cheese, whipped up into a light, foamy cream and poured over a bright green layer of radish leaf coulis and topped with flakes of green tea. It’s a refreshing combination of bitter and earthy flavours, and a promising indication of what’s to come.
The vitello anguilo is a colourful variant of the classic vitello tonnato, but with eel instead of tuna. Corèzze veal is thinly sliced and arranged in stacks on the deep dish. It has a very delicate, milky flavour, rivalled only by that of the smoked eel mousse and fresh chunks of tangy marinated squid. All around is a moat of hijiki algae and dashi bouillon, surprising tips of the hat to Japanese cuisine, plus some avocado to balance out the outspoken taste of the sea.
My silky carpaccio is served in its own bouillon, perfumed with bay laurel oil. A few blades of sea lavender, sea orache and salicornia titillate the senses with brine and crunch. Here and there a dot of bright orange sea-buckthorn berry puree adds some acidity, while cream of eggplant tones it down. Next to this is a side dish of baked, phyllo dough-encrusted white radish with a scoop of luscious buttermilk and goat’s cheese ice-cream.
My companion, a butcher’s daughter with high standards, has nothing but praise for her américain. The minced raw beef, extremely fresh and juicy, is wrapped in thin strips of West Flanders red polder beef with nice marbling. “Rarely have I eaten such a delicious steak tartare, with such perfectly balanced flavours, especially in combination with the beef wrapped around it,” she raves on her culinary blog. It comes with organic romaine lettuce, cauliflower sautéed in bread crumbs and butter, fresh fries and a few dollops of mayonnaise. Both of us enjoy a dry, tart Geuze Boon with our meals.
Meanwhile I’m silently savouring my own dish of calf ’s sweetbreads, easily one of the finest creations I’ve ever had the joy of eating. The meat is almost melt-on-your-tongue soft with a slightly crispy, buttery outer layer covered in a braised mustard seed and organic lemon confit that pops in your mouth. Next to this, wild spinach, frothy potato mousseline and young carrots round off the ensemble’s earthy character.
A bite of my companion’s tarte au citron reveals why this is a La Paix favourite. Buttery cookies are topped with lemon cream and fluffy drops of wild fennel meringue. The masterpiece is complete with an icy scoop of lemon-buttermilk sorbet, deep red hibiscus coulis, fresh whipped cream with bits of Haitian vanilla bean and little crunchy dried violet flower petals that can only be described as candy-like.
On this occasion, we are more than happy to pay the €160 bill.
Ropsy Chaudronstraat 49, Anderlecht; 02.523.09.58
Mon-Thurs, 12.00-14.15; Fri, 12.00- 14.15 & 19.00-21.15
Main dish: €23-45
Brasserie with a Michelin star, serving up refined versions of Belgian classics