Dining out in Belgium sometimes feels like being at a 1970s dinner party. I can’t imagine anywhere else where vol-au-vents and chicken cordon bleu regularly appear on menus without a hint of irony. But beyond the brasserie staples and the tourist favourites like moules frities and waffles, there is a quiet food revolution sweeping the country.
Releasing its 2014 guide to Belgium and Luxembourg, Michelin inspectors praised a culinary scene “that ranks among Europe’s most dynamic” and awarded 19 restaurants with new stars. That takes the total number of Michelin-starred eateries in Belgium to 121, serving a nation of 11 million. If we compare this to its neighbours, there are 274 starred restaurants in Germany, which has a population of 81 million.
And the capital is also enjoying high praise. As Michael Ellis, of the Michelin guides, pointed out: “With 18 starred restaurants... Brussels has more than cities like Berlin, Rome or Milan, and is establishing itself as one of Europe’s leading fine-dining venues.”
The real challenge, however, is surpassing the neighbour to the west. Paris has over 70 Michelin-starred restaurants. But as more French start shifting to Belgium for its lower living costs and more favourable tax regime, they are bringing their high culinary expectations. Some even suggest that the food is better than in France.
In the meantime, I have developed a taste for the giant chicken and mushroom vol-au-vent, and hope it survives any new dining revolution.