It’s hard to trump the impeccable service and peerless seafood at L’Ecailler du Palais Royal, a chic, old-worldy standby on the Place du Grand Sablon. Be sure and start with a bowl of handmade lobster raviolis resting in a pool of curry-perfumed cream. Canterbury is another trusted standby of the local elite, with a leafy terrace, an art-stuffed dining room and a menu of reassuring classics for the luncheon set.
Brussels is famous for its atmospheric brasseries, and La Quincaillerie, set up in a spectacular old hardware store in Art Nouveau style, buzzes every night with guests who surely break their vow to sample only a handful of frites. Belga Queen, a sprawling brasserie in a spectacular 18th-century building that once housed a bank and a post office, serves up Belgian cuisine in a funky, high-design setting—complete with wacky unisex restrooms. As for beer—along with mussels, almost synonymous with Belgium—it’s almost impossible to find a bad or overpriced draft in Brussels. The Walvis and Belga cafes, with rotating fans on ceilings and young, trendy crowds underneath, are worth a visit, the latter situated in a ravishing radio station building from the Thirties. For a traditional pub experience, with rows of wooden tables and nicotinestained walls, try A la Mort Subite, or Sudden Death, and see how many Gueuze beers you can manage.
WHERE TO SHOP
Stijl, a landmark shop on trendy Rue Antoine Dansaert, is a mecca for the crème de la crème of Belgian fashions, with mostly black, quietly alluring ensembles by Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Veronique Branquinho and others hung in artful rows in an industrial setting. The first European outpost for Martin Margiela and boutiques such as Own and Natan 13 are all nearby and play up fashion’s dark, brooding side. Tucked away in a picturesque square is a men’s outpost for local designer Christophe Coppens, proffering quirky accessories such as twotoned fedoras and a sequined brooch in the guise of a bloody kitchen knife.
But the city’s fashion can come out sunny-side up, too. The L’Essentiel boutique on Rue Louise is a perfect example with a riotous decor of vivid colors and retro patterns, and fetching, affordable fashions in the vein of Marni. Bellerose—which Fairchild describes as a Belgian take on Abercrombie & Fitch—has a dim, hunting lodge decor and a selection of cozy sweaters, striped scarves and plaid shirts, which are as reassuringly familiar as they are slyly cool. Brussels has a bounty of boutiques in the contemporary vein stocked with lively mixes of local and international brands such as Privejoke. Most international luxury brands can be found, but the one to check out is Delvaux, a Belgian purveyor of sumptuous leather goods that is older than Hermès and almost as expensive. Stump your friends with a discreet Seventies vintage shoulder bag in gunmetal gray leather, or something with the signature “D” logo.