Four Brussels restaurants have launched an initiative aimed at using only tasty local produce while helping to save the environment. So Tony Mallett felt obliged to pop along to one… Later, he tries truffles at the famous La Truffe Noire, too
‘One hundred percent Belge’ is hardly a new idea, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy. Or tasty. Those behind the move describe it as a way to introduce diners to the flavours and products of Belgium’s different regions while, at the same time, allowing them to play a part in a concept that also has its roots in the environment.
All of the suppliers to these four hotel restaurants are located in Belgium, meaning that transportation of the produce is kept to a minimum. So not only will customers be eating the freshest and best that this gastro-mad country has to offer, they will also be contributing – at least in some small way – to a better environment.
The four hotel chefs (Vincent Masson, Dominique Gaudemer, Christian Tirilly and Jeroen Demuydt) have sourced local producers – some of them really not much bigger than smallholders – in a search for the finest foods, which they then combine with flair and imagination if the Sheraton Crescendo, in Place Rogier, is anything to go by.
‘Fun Times In Europe’ clearly had to drop by for lunch and a chat with ‘Slow Food Movement’ fan Christian Tirilly
and came out a lot more inspired – and a little bit fatter…
According to Christian: “It’s my creativity in the dish but, of course, I search for the best local produce. I always go to meet the supplier personally and I’m now cooperating with eleven-or-so.
“For example, the butter we use at Crescendo is churned in the wood by a very small supplier in Lens. I asked to see his butter and he just opened one little fridge! Also, of course, I use bio products if I can get them.
“Meantime, I go to the local marchés (markets) three times per week to see what the product is here and now, and figure out how we can use it creatively.”
As for the environment, well, it’s one small step – or bike ride – according to Christian: “Well, maybe we don’t use our bikes every day to go to work but maybe we can leave the car at home one day each week. It’s the same with food. If we can eat at least one meal per week that helps the environment – and local business – then it’s a start.
So, have the diners noticed a difference? Says Christian: “From a customer point of view, of course the first thing they notice is that the food is good. Then they realise that ‘Oh! It’s local too!’ So you can have both.”
Just for the record, we tried small snails from Namur firmly planted in a Brussels sprout muslin – basically a mousse of sprouts, butter and potato. This was truly amazing and the normally dreaded sprouts will never be thought of in the same way again.
This amazing starter was followed by roasted codfish with bacon and seasonal vegetables. Now, cod these days normally tastes of nothing at all – but this dish was extremely flavoursome – although how one can ensure that a cod is ‘locally sourced’ is a bit of a mystery. It also goes surprisingly well with bacon.
For pud, well, it just had to be chocolate. Belgian, of course. As Christian pointed out: “In this country it is impossible not to use chocolate and biscuit.”
Amen to that, we say.
100% Belge cooking is available at:
Crescendo, Sheraton Hotel, 3 Place Rogier, 1210 Brussels, Tel: 02 224 34 20
L’Epicerie, Le Méridien Brussels, 3 Carrefour de l Europe, 1000 Brussels, Tel. 02 548 4211
Le Gullivers, Sheraton Brussels Airport Hotel, Brussels National Airport, 1930 Zaventem
La Fourchette, 15 Rue Paul Spaak, 1000 Brussels, Tel: 02 645 6111
More info at
Truffle Fan Luigi is a Real Funghi
‘Fun Times In Europe’ paid a visit to Luigi Ciciriello’s splendid restaurant, La Truffe Noire, which not surprisingly given its name specialises in serving truffles – both the black and white varieties (the white truffles from Alba are only available throughout December, so book ahead!).
The establishment is to be found just a little way off swanky Avenue Louise and the smartly dressed and talkative Ciciriello meets and greets every customer – once you get past the friendly doorman, of course.
Luigi founded the restaurant back in his 30s, some 22 years ago and says: “Good food is good food. It was good 22 years ago, it’s good today and it will still be good in 22 tears time.”
He once held a coveted Michelin star but that has gone, at least for the moment. He doesn’t seem too upset,
though: “Food techniques change all the time. It’s just a matter of current fashion.”
Due to the restaurant’s glowing reputation, he certainly attracts the top-end customers. The night before our visit, the former Belgium premier and now leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament – Guy Verhofstadt – dined there. In fact, over the years, Ghent’s Verhofstadt has been a regular guest at Ciciriello’s tables.
Says Luigi: “The dinner table is the heart of conviviality. Only there the body, mind and soul are being restored.” Well, we certainly felt restored after trying one of the host’s self-confessed ‘weaknesses.’
Prepared at the table by the man himself, we had Carpaccio of Bleue des Prés and parmigiano with sliced black truffle. The truffles are weighed at the table so that everyone gets exactly what they expect. This dish was fantastic – very Italian-tasting and benefitting from the personal touch.
As Luigi points out: “The truffle is the authentic jewel of the gastronomic universe – an initiation for some and a ritual for others.” It was, indeed, an initiation for this writer who, until that moment had lived a completely truffle-free existence, but it would be pretty easy to see it becoming a ritual too…
And what about the aromatic white truffle – or ‘Alba’? Well, it comes from the Langhe area of the Piedmont region in northern Italy and, most famously, in the countryside around the city of Alba.
To give you some idea of how esteemed these truffles are, the record price paid for a single white truffle was set in December 2007, when a Macau casino owner paid US$330,000 for a specimen weighing 1.5 kilograms, discovered by Luciano Savini and his dog Rocco. It was one of the largest found in decades and unearthed near Pisa.
That’s serious, stuff. Enjoy!
La Truffe Noire, 12 Boulevard de la Cambre, 1000 Brussels, Tel: 02 640 44 22