Brussels restaurant sets out to dispel “myths” about Spanish cuisine

Mention the words “France”, and “cuisine” and many people (rightly or wrongly) have a habit of going into raptures. While French food obviously has much to commend it, there happens to be another world cuisine that deserves more credit that it often gets.

The Spanish cuisine often labours under a stereotypical image (many seem to think it starts and ends with paella) but, thankfully, there is one place in Brussels that really is flying the flag for Spanish gastronomy. The Hispania Brasserie opened almost one year ago and in the past 12 months has rightly earned lots of praises for the quality and authenticity of its fine Spanish dishes.

For all its culinary diversity, trying to find a restaurant here that serves genuine Spanish cuisine is something of a thankless task. So it comes as a real pleasure to report that this restaurant, located in Grand Sablon, one of the chicest and prettiest parts of town, ticks all the boxes when it comes to quality service – and achieving what is set out to do at the outset which is be an “ambassador” for Spanish cuisine.

If you have not yet discovered Hispania then you are in for an exciting culinary treat. Marco Moran, the man behind the concept, also runs a similar restaurant, albeit rather bigger, in London’s banking quarter. The fact that the Asturian-born Moran chose Brussels as the venue for his second Hispania was very deliberate and reflects well on the Belgian’s “capital of Europe” status.

Moran’s London venture has been described as the “largest, most accomplished and ambitious project devoted to Spanish gastronomy in Europe.”His Brussels operation is on a slightly more modest scale but the food, nonetheless, is equally impressive as what’s available at its “big brother” in the City of London.

The overriding ethos of Hispania is dedicated to the cuisine of Spain and trying to debunk the myth that it consists of little more than that dish of “yellow rice bit things in it”.Hispania brasserie happens to be located in the NH Collection Grand Sablon hotel, but the business is totally independent of the hotel chain.

There are actually two Hispania’s – the brasserie and, next door, a gastronomic version (currently of the same name). While the former is geared towards the typical mix of tourists and locals who flock to Sablon, the latter is decidedly up market.

The brasserie, which celebrates its first anniversary in January, has a lovely a la carte featuring some fantastic Spanish dishes.It also gives a nod to the locality where it is based, offering a tasty blonde beer called “Zoevel” (it means Sablon in Flemish) which is brewed locally.

The card, which normally changes with the seasons, includes starters such as a fish cocktail (monkfish, lobster and gambas) which is typical light Spanish summer dish. However, when it’s as good as this “Salpicon de Rape y Gambas” goes down equally well in the depths of a Belgian winter!

There is a small but nice selection of fish including hake from the Basque country which is served in a delicious cream made from a tiny crab and is as good as you will find anywhere. The meat range, again relatively small but also terrific, boasts a mouth-watering suckling pig, another great, if slightly underrated Spanish speciality. This is rolled, cooked at low temperature and oven roasted and served with chestnuts and mushrooms.

The food here also comes with some very authoritative wine pairing and the wines – 98 percent of which are imported from Spain – are as memorable as the food. One such example is Valparaiso Roble, a very palatable red that is a good compliment to a meat dish in particular.

While it may be relatively unknown elsewhere, Valparaiso Roble is one of the most popular and frequently consumed wines within Spain itself. Again, the objective is to debunk the myth that Spanish wines start and end with Rioja and by going to the often costly business of importing so many products – ranging from ingredients and products for the food to most of its wine stock – Hispania demonstrates that it does not just pay lip service to the mantra of offering genuine Spanish gastronomy.

The typical Spanish décor, the inspiration of Lorenzo Castillo, one of the most renowned Spanish interior decorators, affords a particularly warm and informal setting. The Brasserie is open 7/7, seats up to 30 and also has a special midweek lunch menu, priced a mere 25 euros per person.

Marco Moràn is the fifth generation of chefs at the helm of Casa Gerardo in Asturias. He splits his time between his restaurants in Brussels, London and his Michelin-starred place in his native Spain.

The day to day responsibility for the wonderful cuisine here is largely down to Adrian Mancheno who, along with Marco, created the gastronomic concept of Hispania Brussels. In the short time it’s been opened, the team have had tremendous success in wowing Belgians and others with some great Spanish creations. This place is often frequented by Spanish people living in Brussels – always a good sign.

Good to know:

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