Imagine the culinary equivalent of a great book, work of art or musical score. Well, that is in effect what you get at Gramm, a delightful eatery nestled at the heart of Brussels’ bustling downtown. Chef/owner Kenzo Nakata wondered about the restaurant’s location when he opened Gramm five years ago.
Located in the middle of Rue de Flandre, he wondered if it might struggle to attract clients. His fears have, though, proved totally unwarranted as it has proved a terrific success. That’s down to a few factors but the biggest one is simple: the quality and creativity of the food that Kenzo very expertly oversees. He likens cooking to playing Mozart: it can be done in either a workmanlike way or, alternatively, with a touch of real imagination.
Kenzo falls very much into the second category. If you needed proof of how good he is then consider this. On a single day at the recent eat!Brussels drink! Bordeaux event, where the city’s top chefs showcase their talents at pop-up kitchens such was demand for Kenzo’s offerings that he served no less than 800 portions on a single day.
That gives you an idea of why the restaurant has done so well. However, it does not quite explain the secret of Kenzo’s success. For that, you first need to consider his rather eclectic background.
Born in Paris to a French mother and Japanese father, he started out learning classical guitar before then studying science and then, finally, attending art school. Music, science, art. These three disciplines have each, in their own way, strongly influenced him on the career path he eventually chose: the culinary trade.
After moving to Brussels 13 years ago, he opened a creperie – just a few metres away on Rue de Flandre – cooking home-made, high quality Breton crepes. That soon won rave reviews, attracting a lot of French customers, but Kenzo had ambitions for something a bit more challenging and complicated than making crepes.
The result was Gramm which, at the time, was not a restaurant but a residential property. Kenzo set about the huge task of transforming it into the stylish, classy and intimate place it is today. He drew on his past record in music, art and science to help him on the cooking front and he has also drawn on his friends and contacts to help the restaurant grow.
So it was that an Italian designed the bar while his former dishwasher, an art student,designed the interior at Gramm. This features an imaginative installation on the ceiling that cuts out the former echo the room used to suffer from. As Kenzo says the installation is both beautiful and useful. It’s also worth noting that, wherever possible, he goes local in sourcing products and ingredients, including beers (of course) and wheat (from near Namur) which is used for the home-made bread.
With his part-Japanese background, you’d also expect that the land of the Orient to have an influence here and you’d be right. This manifests itself in different ways, such as the Japanese ‘citrus’ used to make the homemade butter and the smoked eel (a favourite in Japan as well as a Belgium tradition).
Kenzo, a father-of-two, has opted for a tasting menu rather than the traditional card. There are 5, 6 or 7 course options, with the 6 course one being the most popular with his loyal band of customers. So as to make the dishes as seasonal and fresh as possible (and also satisfy his own desire to be as inventive as possible) he changes the 5,6 and 7 course options every month.
Currently, the 6 course choice includes the aforementioned eel, served with leak, coucou of Malines (Mechelen) with a potato mouse and a desert of sorbet with raspberry and meringue. It also features what has to be Kenzo’s signature dish which is what he calls the “perfect egg.”
This is egg cooked for 50 minutes at 64 degrees which, currently,is served with a Parmesan-style cheese and caramel and topped with Italian truffle. Like everything else he serves, this is quite delicious.
He opted for the tasting menu – a slight risk, perhaps – for the simple reason that, this way, he finds it easier to deal with ingredients going into the food. It also guarantees that everything that appears on the plate or bowl is absolutely fresh (nothing is stored for days on end in a fridge at this place).
There’s also some fabulous (organic) wine pairings to accompany the food (with alternatives offered to those appearing on the wine card). The 40-year-old Kenzo is very ably assisted in the kitchen by Antoine and a hard working team of young people.
For those who wondered, by the way, Gramm is a derivative of “Grand-Maman”. A lot of careful thought and reflection went into the choice of name and the same goes for the mouth-watering dishes Kenzo creates at his marvellous restaurant.
Good to know:
- Rue de Flandre 86, 1000 Bruxelles