The Hedonist: Brussels
What to see and where to be seen
Saturday 09 April 2011
Brussels, you say? Besides Tintin, moules-frites and some chocolatiers with funny names, I hadn't heard much more about the Belgian capital. It seems the tour guides forgot to mention the pulsating jazz scene, the antiques havens and party-hungry locals who certainly pull their weight against their European neighbours.
Sitting pretty on one of the quietest streets behind the busiest tourist site – the impressive Grand' Place – is Rocco Forte's Hotel Amigo (00 32 2 547 4 747; hotelamigo.com). A fitting name, given how friendly and welcoming the staff are. Like most of Mr Forte's hotels, the décor is comfortably unassuming and the subtle Belgian displays, such as the tiny framed cartoons hanging over the toilets and the complimentary biscuits, can easily be missed.
Straight after dropping my bags off, it's on to Kwint, at Mont des Arts 1 (00 32 2 505 9595; kwintbrussels.com) – the sister restaurant of Maison de la Truffe in Paris. Even those with a limited grasp of the French language can guess what this place is all about. Beautiful round, dark chunks of truffle-flavoured salads, soups, pastas and even the breadsticks that I munch between courses.
Soaring on a truffle high, I make my way to meet some friends in Halles Saint-Géry. After a refreshing beer (of course) in Le Roi des Belges (00 32 2 513 5116), one of the cooler bars on the square, we walk to a quiet road, and stop in front of an unmarked door. My local colleagues seem to know something I don't. Two knocks later and we are transported into the modern Art Deco universe that is L'Archiduc (00 32 2 512 0652; archiduc.net). Melancholy women wearing black and men with thick beards tap their feet to upbeat lounge music. The martinis are divine and I dive right in. As the evening wears on, the music heats up and the crowd gets livelier. By 3am we are well on our way to dizzying territories of martini madness.
But there's no rest for the wicked in this city. With a few new "friends" in tow, we head to Fuse, Rue Blaesstraat 208 (00 32 2 511 9789; fuse.be) where electro heavyweight Ricardo Villalobos is playing. It could have been the multiple drinks or the calorie-burning dance routine that gets my tummy rumbling, but the waffle I pick up from a street vendor on the way back to the hotel is to die for.
For better or worse, the next day is beautifully sunny. The birds are chirping and the tourists are out en masse. But I need food and a Bloody Mary asap.
On a corner restaurant in St Catherine's Square, bloated bald waiters shuck oysters for standing customers sipping vin blanc. But I can barely stand, let alone ingest slippery sea creatures, so I go to Le Fourneau (00 32 2 513 1002), a tapas-style eatery that does serious justice to Belgian cuisine. It's at that point that I run into two people I must have met the night before. I can't remember their names for the life of me. After being regaled by stories that have something to do with glow sticks and a tranny named Fantasia, I make a quick escape in search of dessert.
On Place du Grand Sablon, chocolatiers such as Godiva, Neuhaus, and Pierre Marcolini have set up shop and offer samples of their heavenly goo. I spend the rest of the afternoon stumbling upon buildings covered in murals of graffiti featuring Tintin and his friends, and picking up hidden treasures in dusty antique shops in the Marolles district. In Place du Jeu de Balle, a daily flea market sells everything from shoelaces to 19th-century antiques. The North African vendors shout across to each other in Arabic while bohemian try-hards are hanging out on corners. I'm not taking any chances of being spotted again, so I pick up a pair of cracking heart-shaped sunglasses to hide my bloodshot eyes from any other witnesses from last night.
The writer travelled to Brussels on Eurostar (08705 186 186; eurostar.com ) which offers return fares to Brussels from £69.
A 'Hedonist's Guide to...' (Hg2) is a luxury city guide series for the more decadent traveller. For more information, see hg2.com
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