French, Italian, Chinese – we’re all familiar these days with the great world cuisines. But there is another European cuisine that’s far less know but equally wonderful – Basque. It’s food that is often overlooked so much so that there’s hardly any restaurants in either Brussels or Belgium come to that where you can find it. Happily, though, there is one exception and that is Le Fils de Jules, located at the heart of cosmopolitan Ixelles.
It serves genuinely authentic and traditional Basque food, probably the only place in the city that does, and has a lady owner whose personal story is typical of many of the “expats” living here.
Andreea Manolescu, originally from Romania, arrived here back in 2003 having been asked by her family if she was interested in taking over the restaurant which had been launched by her brother Frederic some years earlier. Andreea was travelling the world at the time and had worked in restaurants all over the world to finance her globetrotting and studies.
“I thought,” recalls Andreea, “that this (the offer) as just too good to turn down – a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Having taken the plunge she’s made what was already a popular restaurant even more successful. This is slightly ironic given that she admits, “To be honest, I thought that I’d give it a couple of years or so then move. But here I am, still here, all these years later.”
Hers and the restaurant’s success story has not been without some turbulence, notably at the height of the economic crash when trade for many restaurants in this bustling part of the city fell sharply. The restaurant used to open at lunchtime back then but the policy was changed and now it opens its doors only in the evening.
But that’s even more reason to sample the terrific Basque food available here. Andreea, like any good boss, is constantly on hand to oversee things, not just greeting diners with a particularly cheery welcome and giving her knowledgeable advice on Basque cuisine but also lending a hand when necessary in the kitchen.
She’s ably supported by Basque-born Gerard Demory who has worked here as long as it’s been open (23 years).
If you, like many, are yet to sample the delights of food from this part of south west France, you will not be disappointed. Best sellers for starters on the a la carte include baby squid, pan fried foie gras and sweet peppers filled with cod. These are great, as are the mains, the most popular of which include the sizzling red tuna steak with crunchy veg and grilled octopus.
Another customer fave is the sliced veal which, in the Basque country, is normally cooked in the oven for hours, slightly spicy and served minced. Here it is stir fried and served with peppers and onions.
Another favourite are “Pintxos”, identical to Spanish tapas and a great way of sampling a few starters but in smaller portions. You can have either six or eight pieces and it’s a great introduction to the beauty of Basque food.
Sunday is a particularly busy day here, largely for the fantastic value-for-money Sunday special (just €33.50 pp), a 3 course offering that changes regularly but might include items such as sea scallops and sole. Also worth noting that this is one of the very few restaurants locally that open on Sunday evening.
Aside from the lovely food, there is also a great choice of Basque wines. Andreea readily concedes that, in the past, wine from the region was saddle with a poor reputation but she says this has totally changed and is now comparable with the best that can be found in other parts of France.
One example, among the excellent reds and whites available here, is “Irouleguy”, which is produced in a Basque village and comes in a choice of fruity, wooded or full bodied varieties. If the food is very good the interior of the 54-seat restaurant (there’s also a terrace) also goes out of its way to be authentic.
The unusual wood features on the walls were made partly from dark sand from the Basque country, a vast region that extends from Biarritz in France to Bilbao in northern Spain. Much of what goes into the food here is directly imported from the region and, if a visit here whets your appetite for the Basque cuisine then you should pop over the road to a quaint tapas and wine bar (El Vasco) where Andreea sells artisenal Basque products, including wine.
If you fancy something a bit different, this is one dining experience you should try soon.
Good to know:
- Le Fils de Jules
- Address: Rue du Page/Rue Americaine, Brussels
- Contact: 02 534 0057