Tuesday 17 December 2013


Dinner at Léon de Bruxelles

Léon de Bruxelles started its life 120 years ago in the heart of Belgium's capital, Brussels, and eventually made its way across the pond with its flagship eatery to England. Based in London's West End it attracts culture lovers, locals, tourists and mussel connoisseurs with a plethora of mussel dishes, crispy fries with mayonnaise and Belgian beers.

As soon as we sat down at our table and were given our menus we knew we were in a restaurant that specialised in mussels. Not only did the variety of seafood offerings comprise a large portion of the menu, but the menu itself was shaped like a mussel shell, which was a nice and quirky touch and certainly whetted our appetites for what was to come.

For a starter my guest opted for the calamari fried in breadcrumbs and served with tartar sauce, which she was very pleased with. It was a generous portion on the plate and while the little taste I had was slightly too greasy for my liking, my friend disagreed with me and was very satisfied with her first course.

I myself chose the wild mushroom croquettes, which was one of three flavourings on the menu, and they were very good indeed. As soon as I bit into the first croquette an intense mushroom flavour exploded in my mouth, which reminded me of a good creamy mushroom soup but with a little more bite. It was a very pleasant start to the evening and set the bar high for the rest of the meal.

My friend, who I believe is somewhat of an expert when it comes to the taste of shellfish (opposed to myself, I am much more of a novice), choose the fairly basic mariniere mussels as her main, reasoning that the simple sauce of white wine with parsley and shallots wouldn't distract from the overall taste of the course.

She was very satisfied with the flavour of the dish, which was served in a heavy iron bucket to keep the meal warm. It was a large portion however, so despite it being very tasty she was unable to finish it in its entirety. As with all the mussel mains, hers was served with the well-known large and crispy fries known as Belgian frites, which were delicious and complemented the seafood flavour well.

I haven't had mussels on many occasions in the past and so my eyes did wander back and forth between the wealth of other options on the menu, especially the grilled salmon with pesto sauce and the entrecote sounded very appealing, but eventually I decided that when in Rome (or Belgium in this case), I should really try one of the restaurant's specialties.

Still thinking about the grilled salmon on the next page I chose the salmon and basil mussels, which ended up being the perfect combination of flavours for me. There was a generous amount of salmon mixed in with my mussels, though I've come to realise that while I enjoyed the dish as served I'm not much of a mussel fan in general. I am pleased I gave it a try though and with a delicious dish at that.

My main too was served in a heavy iron bucket which kept it warm for the duration of the meal, even though I was taking my time as opening the mussels is quite a slow process. Another reason I didn't rush the main course is that it was a very large portion, and despite my best efforts I too wasn't able to polish off my plate in the end.

While we were both unable to finish our main courses, we of course couldn't resist the temptation of a sugary sweet dessert and as such we asked for the menu once more, before spending a fair amount of time salivating over all the options. My friend opted for the Belgian chocolate fondant because, again, when in Rome, and you can hardly go wrong with chocolate - especially from Belgium. It was a dense and very chocolatey cake, complimented well by the gently flavoured ice cream on the side.

I myself had made up my mind as soon as I laid eyes upon the dessert titled La Coupe Spéculoos. Most of you are probably not familiar with this, but I am from the Netherlands and speculoos is a well known spicy shortcrust biscuit - and a smooth and gooey bread spread, which I admit I sometimes eat straight from the jar with a spoon. So of course the idea of an ice cream flavoured with something I'm very fond of was too hard to resist.

The coupe was served with caramelised apple compote in the bottom of the glass, speculoos ice cream in the middle and a very generous wallop of Chantilly cream on top, which was decorated with some speculoos biscuit crumbs. It was an amazing combination of sweet and warming flavours and for me this delectable dessert alone made the visit to the restaurant worthwhile. Not that any of the other courses weren't well presented, cooked or flavoured, but this one was particularly enticing and memorable.

With more varieties of mussels on the menu than can be counted on two hands, and other Belgian specialties such as frites and beers to compliment their main speciality, Léon de Bruxelles has a lot to offer to those who love fresh, well-seasoned seafood and a good brew.

And even if those options don't particularly tickle your fancy you'll be sure to find something of interest on the diverse menu, which also includes other seafood dishes as well as meat and vegetarian options. My particular favourite and recommendation would be the dessert La Coupe Spéculoos, which is a slightly tart but mostly sweet and spicy little piece of heaven.

Léon de Bruxelles, 24 Cambridge Circus, London WC2H 8AA.

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