It’s the season where we celebrate a new birth and the historical centre of Brussels is also doing much the same. The new birth in question is Aux Armes de Bruxelles which, after an inglorious recent chapter in its otherwise stellar history, is once again set for an exciting renewal. The restaurant has recently reopened under new ownership after being declared bankrupt earlier this year.
That was allegedly down to the indifferent management of the previous owner but, thankfully, the new man at the helm already knows a thing or two about how to run a successful restaurant business. Rudy Vanlancker’s Chez Leon (which celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2018) is one of the most popular eateries in Brussels and he’s now added Les Armes de Bruxelles, located directly opposite, to his portfolio. His takeover could not have come at a better time for the eatery.Founded in 1921 by Calixte Veulemans, Les Armes soon became known for its gastronomy, counting everyone from Jacques Brel and Pierre Brasseur to Toots Thielemans and Charles Aznavour among its clients. For years it really was the place to be seen.
But, since the 1970s, the city’s historic l’llot Sacre – Sacred Island – has experienced mixed fortunes. Everything from the lockdown, triggered by the terrorist atrocity in 2016 to the practices of the “racoleurs”, who tout for business outside restaurants, contributed to a steady decline in the area’s image. This coincided with the area being “deserted” by the local people and taken over almost entirely by tourists. This is a trend that, thanks in no small part of the likes of Rudy Vanlancker, is now firmly in reverse. The good news is that the locals are back and the welcome reopening of Les Armes promises to further reinforce the area’s reinvention.
Rudy’s bid for the bankrupt business was deemed the most acceptable in terms of its social and architectural merits. First, he retained all the 33-strong workforce and Vanlancker also pledged to respect the restaurant’s renowned architecture. For Rudy, retaining the staff was the natural thing to do, saying they are “part of the DNA” of the restaurant. He says he will “take great pride” in restoring this culinary institution to its former glories.
“I want to make it what it was 15 years ago,” declares Rudy. For him, that means a “good Brussels brasserie” and, judging by the huge interest influx of diners on any given night, it’s a policy that’s already going down a real treat with locals and visitors alike.
The menu is unashamedly traditional – at this place tradition counts for an awful lot! – featuring some classic French/Belgo meat and fish dishes. The products remain exceptional. Among the specialties, perfectly executed, are the mussels and snail mussels, a speciality of the house, the salad Veulemans, sole from the North Sea and poached cod.
The meat choice is equally impressive and equally tasty, including duck, carre d’agneau, cote de veau and a selection of excellent steaks, all sourced from Dierendonck, that redoubtable Belgian butcher. You can round things off – if you still have the room – by selecting any one of the fine deserts which include a plate of cheese, tarte au sucre, crepe and, of course, crème brulee.
On the drinks list, you will find some great beers from Belgium (where else!) and you will also be spoilt for choice from the top notch wine selection.
Look out too for the way they serve bubbles here – it’s the “old fashioned” way and will particularly delight traditionalists and those who remember how things used to be.
In fact, eating at this wonderfully atmospheric place – open 7/7 – is a bit like taking a trip down Memory Lane. The tables, with their crisp white tablecloths and waiters decked out in traditional uniforms really does remind you of a glorious chapter in the history of Belgian cuisine when politeness ruled supreme and service and standards were of paramount importance.
Rudy has surrounded himself with a top team as he sets about restoring the reputation of this fine restaurant, including Luis Gomes, the veteran maitre d’hôtel who has worked here for some 25 years. He has held several positions graduating over the years and his presence in the new team is testimony to Rudy Vanlancker’s desire to return the restaurant to its “soul of yesteryear.” Overseeing things in the kitchen is Cédric Callenaere, a post that for him is something of a dream come true. Cedric now finds himself working at a restaurant he used to frequent as a child with his parents and where his dream of becoming a chef was born.
Les Arms and Chez Leon are reputedly the two largest restaurants in the country with about 150 staff members between them.
Rudy’s ambition is to give back to the “Arms of Brussels”, formerly owned by the recently deceased Belgian tycoon Albert Frere and located less than 100 metres from the famous Grand Place, its lustre of yesteryear. He’s given himself three years to realise his goal and such is the single minded determination of this proud Belgian it would be amazing if it doesn’t happen.
Good to know:
- Les Armes de Bruxelles
- Address: 13 Rue des Bouchers, Brussels
- Contact: 02 511 5550