Humphrey, Brussels – Was that really it?

I’m careful about being overly critical about restaurants, as I tend to pay attention to details that other people wouldn’t necessarily care or complain about. But if friends of yours agree with you and some chefs around Brussels share your opinion too, you can’t be that off.

Humphrey is a well-known name in the Brussels food scene, as one of its founders, Yannick Van Aeken, used to work at the world-famous Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, that is due to reopen soon. Yannick left Humphrey and now, the co-founder, Glen Ramaekers, runs the restaurant by himself, which is a five-minute walk away from the metro station Botanique. Maybe my expectations were too high, or maybe the place has simply changed since Yannick is not in the kitchen anymore, but I was a bit disappointed.

The interior is very cosy, dimmed light, a lot of wood, an open kitchen with a large dark green marble working space, wooden tables, wooden ceiling and graphite coloured tiled floor. The space was redesigned by Frederic Nicolay – a well-known architect in Brussels – into a romantic interior that charms with its dimmed and pleasant lighting.

The waiters were very nice, as well as the chef. We were quite a big group, a challenge in itself for a restaurant, and ordered a menu for 40€, which normally isn’t an option, as group menus usually start at 75€, so it was nice that an exception was made for us (even though we didn’t know this before). Unfortunately, the food wasn’t really exceptional and considering the image the restaurant tries to build and the overall sum our table paid for what we got, this was hardly satisfying.

The dinner started with fried zucchini tempura and a soy-based dipping sauce: this was quite delicious, and some summer rolls together with a peanut spread: nice, but nothing exceptional. After half an hour or so we received a bowl of roasted cauliflower on a hazelnut mousse, to be shared by 3-4 people, which was also good.

I think our main course arrived after another 45 minutes of waiting and included a 1-2 small pieced of cod, which I found extraordinarily delicious; tender and soft, tasteful and served in a nice sauce. A bowl of plain rice was served with the cod and a few minutes later pork skewers arrived, 1 or 2 for each one of us. I wasn’t annoyed about quantity here; if you go to a star restaurant you’ll also get a small piece of everything, but I expect something very nice then.

The skewers were marinated in a tasty sticky sauce, but the meat was dry, tough to eat and with a lot of fat pieces in-between. The rice was a bit tasteless, and the vegetarian option was a bit disappointing too. Instead of fish and meat, the two vegetarians amongst us, got a bowl of mashed sweet potatoes (without any particular seasoning) and a bowl with a bit of broccoli in a curry sauce, which was good, but for a main course very little and quite simple.

I loved one of the desserts (although I could’ve had more of the savoury food): cheesecake made from goat cheese on a short crust pastry with apples – amazing. The piece was so small though, one had the impression that every piece was weighed to the milligram. The second one, a pastel de nata, was fine but I’ve eaten better ones in Brussels.

Overall: I really liked the cod and the cheesecake, the tempura and the cauliflower were good, but the rest was nothing exceptional and definitely overpriced; even more when considering that in the end everyone was still a bit hungry. I think the chef is very nice and friendly, the interior is lovely and the concept of sharing good food among friends is great, which is why I find it a pity that food isn’t what I expected it to be and it wouldn’t make me come back a second time. I am happy I tried it, but sometimes expectations that come from the reputation of a chef, can turn into having rather a negative impact rather than positive.

Price: You’ll probably leave the place with a bill of minimum 60€ for food that is not exceptional and where a glass of wine is 8€.