Belgian foodie escapade: Le Rêve Richelle

The name of Le Rêve Richelle, a delightful French-themed restaurant, is a rather clever play on the words which works well on every level.

Rêve, in French, means dream so the owner came up with the novel idea of removing the “d” from the road where it happens to be located (dreve Richelle) for the name of the restaurant.

There’s no doubt that the food served here has a “dreamlike” quality and the inventive thinking that went into the relatively mundane task of finding a name also goes into the cooking.

At Le Rêve Richelle, Benoit Decelle successfully marries the traditional with the modern which is just one of the reasons why his business is still going strong 26 years after he launched it. Everything from the friendly welcome diners are given on entry and the relaxing and spacious surroundings to the fine cuisine itself is top notch here and reflects very well, both on Benoit and his wife Claire.

Claire et Benoît Decelle
Claire and Benoît Decelle

The beginning of this adventure

Benoit’s success story, or “adventure” as it might also be called, actually goes back all the way to 1991. His parents were pharmacists but, for Benoit, his future lay in the culinary, rather than chemist, world.

After leaving a renowned catering school in Namur, he worked for several high class restaurants in Brussels and also had a spell at a top hotel in Singapore. Having returned to Belgium,he passed a “nice-looking” villa in Waterloo one day which was up for sale and also conveniently located opposite what, at the time, was  a fledgling business park.

It didn’t take long for him to decide that this was the place where he might set about launching his dream of opening and running his very own restaurant. That was 26 years ago and, along the way, he met Claire, a trained interpreter but who had a background in hotel/restaurant management.

Fast forward to the present and, while Benoit’s focus is very much on creating some mouth-watering creations, Claire is in charge of “front-of-house” affairs  where, amongst other things, she also dispenses some very knowledgeable expertise for diners on the restaurant’s extensive – and eclectic – wine selection.   The couple have a delightful way of describing their success here, describing it as a “love story.”

“It a love story between us, a love story between Claire and her clients and, finally, a love story between me and my cuisine,” declared the locally-born Benoit.

The real bread and butter

For diners, the love story actually starts with the tasty homemade bread which, as a foretaste of what is to follow, is very inventive (some of it is made from octopus ink and tomato and cumin).

Benoit’s inventiveness knows no bounds and that extends to the appetiser which is popcorn – not the variety you find at the cinema but a version which contains truffle!

The love affair blossoms with the a la carte which specialises in what might be called Franco-Belgian classics. It currently includes sweetbread (a personal favourite of Claire); grilled turbot and fillet soles (interestingly served with Monbazillac, a sweet white wine). There’s also deer, duck fillet  and dry aged steak served with homemade chips.

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Everything here is recommended but, it seems, the majority of customers opt for the fixed menu which, at €56 per head, represents particular good value for money (the price is even lower, €39pp, if only one starter is taken). This 6-course feast, which changes every month, currently features some lovely options such as red tuna, St Jacques and boneless quail (easy to see why it’s so popular!)

Eating here, though, is not complete with availing yourself of Claire’s impressive expertise when it comes to wine and, here, there is quite a choice. Thankfully, the choice (available by the glass as well as bottle) is not restricted to the “usual suspects” but extends to other wine markets, such as Romania, Lebanon and Bulgaria which are rarely featured at restaurants  in Belgium.

Each dish on the fixed menu includes a recommended wine, including (with the starter) a very satisfying Stellenbosch red which is a great accompaniment to the food generally.

Benoit says he particularly likes to use the fixed menu to “experiment” and “surprise” customers a little with its featured dishes – this is also where he can bring his influence of working in the Far East to bear on his cooking.  But, whatever one’s choice (menu or a la carte) the emphasis is very much on freshness and employing only seasonal products.

The quality of both the service and food is evidenced by the fact that some customers travel from as far as Antwerp. In a business that can be quite volatile the fact that this restaurant is still a top attraction after over a quarter of a century is going some.

Good to know:
96 dreve Richelle, Waterloo
Telephone: 02 354 8224