Hughes Belin picks out his favourite – and least favourite – friteries in the capital of Europe
It’s crazy how we’re capable of dropping our standards when we’re partying or going out in town. I mean gastronomic standards, of course.
We all discuss finding a restaurant that meets everybody’s ideas of quality, ethnicity, choice, atmosphere and perhaps location. But often we fail to question the quality of the friterie we may end up in at midnight.
But what if the fries could be a great gastronomic experience, even in the middle of the night? And for very little money?
A while ago, I took my fiancée by surprise…to a great friterie in Brussels. And, believe me, she appreciated the place as much as if I‘d picked a nice restaurant – a Valentine’s dinner for just €4. The friterie was Chez le Grec, in Anderlecht, a place where people are friendly and talkative and where there’s excellent fries, value for money and a choice of some classical Greek snacks.
Chez le Grec is centrally located in a well-populated area. It’s been there for so many years that it’s now part of the local culture. But, for a foreigner like me, eager to discover this Belgian must-eat, there were plenty of as-of-yet tried friteries.
Most visitors will probably have heard about Chez Antoine (Place Jourdan), Frit-Flagey (Place Flagey) or Friterie du Parc (Barrière de St Gilles). To me, these have long-outlived their usefulness. They belong to yesterday and, in my view, are still living undeservedly on past excellence.
Instead, try La Friterie du Bourdon, close to Brussels crematorium. These fries are close to perfection and the owner knows it. TV channels and newspapers pay him regular visits for good reason. He wants to remain number one in Brussels, so we can trust his constant dedication to quality.
Not that far from Le Bourdon is chez Clémentine – located in the middle of St Job square in Uccle. Excellent fries and a great sauce tartare maison await: everything is fresh, served with a smile and there’s plenty of space to park.
Back in the centre of Brussels are two great friteries just behind la Bourse: Fritland and Tabora. It’s a surprise to have two excellent outlets right in the centre, where you would normally expect low quality for innocent tourists.
However, at Fritland, they peel and cut their fries, ensuring the freshest in Brussels. Who else could afford to have some staff dedicated to making fries ready to cook, when you can get, like most friteries do, daily peeled and cut fries delivered in vacuum bags? The fact that they sell a quarter-of-a-tonne on average each day is perhaps the answer. First opened in 1978, this fast-food restaurant was fully refitted in 2005 and is now perfectly clean and modern.
Some 50 metres further, just behind la Bourse, the 35-year old Tabora is much, much smaller. Its speciality is the fat it uses. Most good frites in Brussels are cooked with blanc de boeuf – the inside fat of beef. Here, they cook them with veal’s fat, which gives them a much more fruity taste, a perfect golden yellow colour and plenty of crunchiness.
So what makes for great frites? I asked Jean-Pierre Jacquet, from Karikol, Brussels’ slow-food chapter. J-P said: “They must have a yellow colour, with slightly ‘coppery’ edges and be, at first, crunchy then immediately afterwards crispy, to finish soft when the teeth get to their heart, giving a nice taste of potato, nut and a very slight flavour of meat broth.”
My god, it seems some Brusseliers are qualified in potatology!
J-P and I then had dinner at Friture René, which is not a friterie, but an excellent and picturesque restaurant created in 1932, serving a handful of Brussels’ specialities and of course, excellent fries. Dirk Pilon, owner since the 80s, knows his job. He explains that there’s only one good potato for fries: the bintje. This is the most-floury and allows for perfect heat penetration. In Winter, the taste of fries changes, as they’re harvested until late Autumn with the next batch only available in Spring.
Fries should be cooked twice, Piolon says, first at a temperature of 150°C. Then the fat has to escape and, less than one hour afterwards, they must be cooked a second time, but at a much higher temperature (165-172°C) to give them their great crispiness and their definitive colour.
But temperatures and times differ from one shop to another, which makes each unique. Also, the potatoes come from different places in Belgium and Holland. But one thing is certain: no truly great fries are delivered frozen or cooked with vegetable oil.
Fries are inevitably part of the Brussels culture, although little help comes from the authorities to enhance quality and preserve the best places. The friterie Martin, perhaps the city’s best, closed its small door in place St Josse in late December, after almost 50 years.
“When an old man dies, it’s a library that dies”, so they say. Let’s add that: “When a great fritkot disappears, it’s a piece of Brussels which disappears too.”
Chez le Grec, Square des Vétérans coloniaux, 1070 Anderlecht,
Tel: +32 476 56 18 39
Open Monday-Saturday 11.30am-11pm
Maison Antoine, 1, Place Jourdan, 1040 Etterbeek, Tel: +32 2 230 54 56,
Open Sunday-Thursday 11.30am-1am, Friday-Saturday 11.30am-2am
Frit-Flagey, Place Flagey, 1050 Ixelles
Open Tuesday-Sunday 11.30am-00am
Friterie du Parc, 156, avenue du Parc, 1060 St Gilles
Open Sunday-Thursday 11am-5.30am, Friday-Saturday 11am-7am
Friterie du Bourdon, 1142, Chaussée d’Alsemberg, 1180 Uccle,
Tel: +32 2 332 04 48
Open Tuesday-Saturday 12am-2.30pm + 6pm-00am, Sunday 12am-10pm
Chez Clémentine, Place St Job, 1180 Uccle, Tel: +32 2 374 08 86,
Open Sunday-Thursday 11.30am-1am, Friday-Saturday 11.30am-6am
Fritland, 49 rue Henri Maus, 1000 Bruxelles,
Tel: +32 2 514 06 27
Open Sunday-Thursday 11am-1am, Friday-Saturday 11am-5am
Friterie Tabora, 2 rue Tabora, 1000 Bruxelles
Open 7/7 11am-6am
Friture René, 14-15, Place de la Résistance, 1070 Anderlecht,
Tel: +32 2 523 28 76
Open Wednesday-Sunday 11.45am-2.30pm + 6pm-9.30pm
(also open Mondays from October-July)