The number of Michelin-starred Spanish restaurants outside of Spain can probably be counted on one hand. It is certainly a safe bet that, currently, there aren’t any in Belgium.
However, all that could change soon if the quality of cuisine available at this top-notch restaurant is anything to go by. Having opened only this month, El Impasse del Sablon is possibly the newest to open in Brussels’ restaurant scene.
It’s obviously still to find its place in the culinary pecking order, but judging by the customer feedback thus far it’s going to be a major player. And do not be surprised if it does indeed become Belgium’s first starred Spanish gastronomic restaurant.
So, what is all the fuss about? Well, the fact that it ticks three important boxes goes a long way to explaining its credentials. Location, décor and the all-important food – this restaurant scores on all three.
First, it is delightfully located, with the entrance about half way down a picturesque little passage (Impasse Saint-Jacques), just off the city’s chic Place Sablon. The narrow thoroughfare contains African art galleries and upmarket jewellery shops and can be easily missed, hence its reputation as one of the city’s best kept “secrets.”
As for the décor, this is a delight on the eye and the work of a well-known Spanish designer (who also just happens to have designed for the King of Spain!). The general aim is to recreate the Spanish bourgeois style that you might expect to find in Madrid or other cities in Spain.
This is a particularly cosy and intimate place to eat – there are just 11 tables with seating for about 24 – and there’s a lovely little area at the entrance where diners can sit and have a relaxing drink before dinner.
The tables – unlike a lot of restaurants these days – are discreetly separated so as to provide as much privacy and conversation space as possible .
And obviously the most important thing – the food. Here, you are most unlikely to be disappointed. Much of the produce and ingredients used in the cooking is sourced from Asturias, a northern region in Spain. This is particularly appropriate as it is the region where Marcos Moran, the restaurant’s renowned consultant chef, hails from.
If you are unfamiliar with the quality of Spanish gastronomic food then Jean-Francois Delaunay, the French-born restaurant manager (ably assisted by his Spanish colleague) is on hand to more than fully explain everything.
The wonderful card includes tapas which can be shared and a very good selection of oysters. From the starters, one particular dish which is recommended is the champignons de saison, oeuf cuit lentement, pomme de terre et truffe – a real delight. The langoustine with pasta and cabbage is another recommendation.
There is a small, but special, choice of fish and meat of which the lamb shoulder, served with chestnut puree and goat curd is highly recommended. The Iberian milk-fed pork shoulder with roasted garlic and mini pickled veg (or another dish, beef sirloin fillet with apple chutney) are equally mouth-watering offerings.
This is fine dining at its best which actually starts well before the main course, with some terrific aperitivo. These include something close to the heart of Marcos Moran, the original inspiration behind the food here. Called “crunchy”, it seeks to recreate one of Marcos’ childhood favourites and is accompanied by cod fish croquette and Iberico jamon. Each are very tasty as is the homemade bread, served with butter made from olive oil.
These small offerings all amount to a great appetiser for the fantastic food that follows. It is worth appreciating the sheer quality of the pork and jamon Iberico. It is sourced from a pure breed of pig which goes some way to explaining why much of the food here has that “melt-in-the-mouth” feel to it.
If the food is of the highest quality so too is the wine, again much of sourced from Spain and is all expertly detailed by the very friendly and helpful Jean-Francois. As well as the a la carte, there are also tasting menus available which, depending on the number of course, are priced at either €75 or €90.
There are some who still think that Spanish food starts and ends with paella and cheap plonk. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, but it’s the image that’s been built up, partly as a result of cheap packaged holidays to Spain. But the best of Spanish gastronomy compares favourably with anything, as is evidenced here.
This restaurant doesn’t yet have star status but, if the “food experience” currently being enjoyed by diners here is anything to go by, it can only be a matter of time before it does!
Good to know:
- Address: Impasse Saint-Jacques, Grand Sablon – 1000 – Brussels
- Telephone: 02 512 9132
- Reservation: firstname.lastname@example.org