Aurelien Delouf

Making guests feel looked after is all in a night’s work for Aurélien Delouf, ex-restaurant manager and sommelier at Bouchéry in Brussels. Raised in the north of France, Delouf found synergies between his birthplace and the cool village atmosphere of the Belgian capital, making relocating to Brussels in 2018 a no-brainer. “The people of Brussels are notoriously very friendly but the food doesn’t get the credit it deserves,” says Delouf who lived in London for seven years where he worked at restaurants such as one-Michelin starred Galvin La Chapelle in Spitalfields and Gordon Ramsay's Maze. As he prepares to embark on a new journey in France later this year, he hopes these addresses shift perception of eating and drinking in Brussels, the city he called home these last four years.

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My Favourite Places to Drink in Brussels

My favourite places to drink in Brussels are Titulus and Tarzan. I like the people behind them a lot. They’re friendly and warm, and that’s what you want when you’re off-shift. We work long hours at our job and when we’re not working we want to feel well taken care of. You know if it’s cold and you’re sitting in front of a fireplace and somebody brings you a blanket? This is the kind of place I like to go to. They’ve both got amazing wine lists and make great comfort food to nibble on and to share. They’re also importers and their wine lists are unique, so if you try something at their bars and like it you can end up stocking it. Titulus is probably the one place in Brussels with the most impressive sake list. I’m a big fan of sake, especially the kinds with lower ABVs that you can have cold or hot with a nice umami taste. Vivien, one of the owners, is a sake sommelier. Every time I want to buy sake I call him and ask for his opinion on pairing food and sake and I trust his opinion. For food you can go à la carte, a set menu or carte blanche and you can trust that it will all be well-thought through. I’ve had great braised beef with Béarnaise sauce there. Tarzan is open seven days which is convenient when you work in a restaurant. Last time I went, I had a black sesame hummus with pickles and a nice charcuterie board with some cheese. They write their menu on a blackboard because it changes often, but everything is homemade, well-made and pairs well with their wines. I was with a friend who was lactose-intolerant and we were able to order quite a lot of stuff on the menu that was both vegan-friendly and gluten-free, so I think they care about these things, which is not very common at bars.

High-Level Vegan Dining in Brussels

You can’t say “vegan food” and “Brussels” in the same sentence without mentioning Humus x Hortense. It is the only vegan restaurant in Brussels doing things at that level of quality and service. Chef Nicolas Decloedt was trained in some of the best fine-dining restaurants in Europe including Mugaritz. Caroline Baerten went to culinary school but is also a nutritionist and sommelière. She was an art historian and that is very visible in the design and service at the restaurant. It’s got a small dining room but with a lot of ambience. 

A Restaurant That Feels Just as Relaxed as Belgium

I like the Sablon neighbourhood because it reminds me a bit of Mayfair in London. It’s also a bit fancy but less pretentious. I like to go to a few places there, one of which is Les Brigittines. It’s a very nice restaurant with an atmosphere that gives off “Belle Époque in Paris”, but everything feels relaxed, just like the way people in Belgium are. Chef Dirk makes Belgian food, slightly on the fine side. His veal cheeks with Cantillon’s Kriek are simply amazing. I remember having a tuna tartare with pork belly, ginger and lime there. It was an amazing combination of spicy, sour and salty with an all-round freshness. I licked the plate at the end. Les Brigittines has a very good natural wine list, both by the bottle and by the glass. I’m not a sweet tooth so instead of dessert, I like to order a selection of Belgian cheeses at the end of my meal. If you’ve made it to Brussels it would be a shame to miss Bozar: the pâté en croûte and the duck and foie gras pithiviers made by chef Karen Torosyan are both out of this world.

A Barber Serving Beers, Spirits and Cocktails

My barber, Bayer & Bayer, is in Sablon as well. When I want to feel refreshed and beautiful on my day off, I like to drop in for a trim after a stroll around Sablon. Its staff are very knowledgeable and treat customers like kings. There’s a bar inside the barber shop that serves beers and amazing spirits. Owner Nicolas Bayer knows how to make cocktails, so every Thursday they do a speakeasy type of thing and you can have an Old-Fashioned while you get a haircut. It’s a real treat. 

Sweet Treats From One of the World’s Best Pastry Chefs

I love smoking cigars so when I’m done with my barber, I cross the street to buy my cigars for the month from Davidoff of Geneva, then turn the corner to Pierre Marcolini. Marcolini is one of the best pastry chefs in the world. Every time I go to the shop, I buy a jar of his casse-noisette, which is like Nutella but better. It’s 55 per cent hazelnuts, free of palm oil and tastes of hazelnuts bigtime. I also buy dark chocolate, somewhere between 70 and 80 per cent. It always has interesting creations, especially for Easter. The macarons have the right crunch and great length and you can pick ready-made boxes or create your own. They come in very luxurious packaging so make for a very nice gift. When I go back to visit my family I bring over a box for my mum, grandma or brother. It’s a cool way to say I love you. 

A Cafe With Great Drinks and Specials of the Day

I usually finish off my Sablon stroll at Chez Richard. It’s a small café but it’s spot-on. I’ll order a glass of white wine – it has a good wine and beer list – and the special for the day. The last time I was there I had a vegetarian cannelloni with spinach, ricotta and a very good tomato sauce, slightly gratinée. I remember having fried chicken with wasabi mayonnaise once. Wow, putain! It was also very good. 

A Bistro Specialising in The “Naughty” Flavours of Lyon

Les Petits Bouchons in Uccle, makes naughty food. I say that because Tom, the chef, calls it “bistro canaille”. “Canaille” is French for a cheeky, naughty boy. Let’s just say I wouldn’t take a vegetarian there. The chef Tom used to work at nice places such as Les Brigittines and very much cooks comfort food such as prawn croquettes which are a classic Belgian street food. He runs this place with his wife who takes care of the front-of-house. They’re two big personalities: a very nice couple and very nice people. I was born in Lyon but only lived there for a few years, yet my heart still beats for Lyon and I love food from that region. You know, like frog legs fried in butter or saucissons en brioche (brioche stuffed with baked sausage). I go to Les Petits Bouchons when I crave this kind of food. It makes things like skate wings with beurre noisette and capers. It has a great wine list too. I used to go there before my shift at Bouchéry because it’s nearby and drink a couple of glasses of wine with one starter and one main course. I often tell the chef, “Okay omakase: do whatever you want, just remember I’ve got a peanut allergy.” He’ll ask me how much time I have and never really serves me the same thing twice because the menu changes quite often. Andy, one of the front-of-house, is a very cool guy who knows his wines and has perfected the craft of serving a draught beer, which is quite rare nowadays.

One of The Best Places to Eat in Brussels

Barge is a very nice restaurant in Sainte Catherine, run by Gregoire and Barbara. Gregoire used to work in a two-Michelin-starred restaurant near Namur called L’Air du Temps. He’s a talented chef and loves pickling and lacto-fermenting. Barbara was the sommelière at the same restaurant and is now the sommelière at Barge and runs its cellar. She’s a very nice person with a very good nose and palate. She really knows her stuff. Barge is one of the best places to eat in Brussels. 

“If I Didn’t Work at Bouchéry I Would Still Go There to Eat”

If I didn’t work at Bouchéry I would still go there to eat. I mean it’s not cheap but €78 for the dinner menu – drinks not included – that can blow you away is not a lot. The lunch is more affordable and is also an amazing experience. It’s got a beautiful bucolic garden, the dining room has a great atmosphere with Nordic minimalism and raw material accents such as the stunning marble tables. The private dining room on the first floor is somewhere where you’ll eat well and be well-taken care of. Chef Damien Bouchéry is maybe the most iconic person I’ve met in my life. He gave me borderless inspiration. Benedicte Bantuelle [the co-founder of the restaurant and creative studio, La Bouche] taught me a lot of what I know about natural wines and I wouldn’t be where I am if our paths hadn’t crossed.

A Monthly Seafood Party For The Industry

I like to go to Le Dillens in Saint-Gilles. There are two Bens that work there: petit (small) Ben and grand (big) Ben. Petit Ben is actually six-feet tall, which is funny, and he works in the front-of-house. Big Ben is in the kitchen. We are always pleased to see each other because we have the same philosophy of products, the same state of mind and the same vibe. The first Sunday of every month, they do Le Dillens Sur Mer: a unique seafood menu that you order à la carte. I went recently with my flatmate. I asked Ben what I should drink and he was like: “try this cider man, it’s so good. It’s extra brut, so not a lot of sugar. It’s vintage and…” and I was like, “okay stop. you got me. Let’s order it.” But it was only by the bottle so I had to get the full bottle. Then it went on to a white Alsace wine with some oysters from Normandie. Then we ordered some cockles served with pata negra; tagliata of beef with some sardines; and octopus cooked on the plancha with ratatouille. We opened a bottle of red wine. We always run into friends from the industry so it ends up being a lot of fun. Otherwise you can go there for lunch on a regular day. It’s very affordable. Most dishes range between €10 to €15. 

Where To Drink Cocktails in Brussels

Chez Ta Mère is a nice bar for cocktails on Place Fernand Cocq in Ixelles. The name means “at your mum’s” so if you’re asked where you are you could upset some people. They always have a milk punch on the menu: it’s a signature. Pierre, one of the three owners who are all very nice people, won a cocktail competition with his milk punch. I live in Forest on the west side of Brussels so I don’t go out here much, which is more east. When I go out I like to walk back home. I think cities breathe in a different way at night. I love to feel the city resting but still beating for its citizens. I love to go to Life is Beautiful (LIB), a cocktail bar in Sainte Catherine. The setting is quite simple, but its spirit selection and cocktails are amazing. It has a shop nearby, so if you fall in love with something you can buy a bottle of it. Le Réservoir is also a good bar run by some friends in Les Marolles, the antiques neighbourhood. They specialise in exhibiting artists and change the decoration quite often. They love their rums and so do I. 

Expressions of Asian Food in Brussels 

When I’m in Chaussée de Waterloo, I like to go to a Korean restaurant called Maru. It’s casual and the people there are very friendly. It doesn’t do Korean barbecue, but the kimchi is very good. I always order the awesome beef tartare and its fried chicken is made with the whole bird, so you can’t order that by yourself. The menu changes often and it has a very good natural wine list. Nearby is Kamo, a one-Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant. It’s fancier and a bit more pricey, but wow! Sushi is the tip of the Japanese food iceberg. When I started to go deeper into their cuisine, I understood why Tokyo is the most Michelin-starred city in the world. It’s in everything they do: the flavours, the textures, the choice of products. It’s a way of thinking. I’ve met Kamo a couple of times and he’s a very good chef. The first time was when he came to Bouchéry to eat after his shift and brought over some fish heads he had prepared for Damien and the staff. He’s a friend of Damien and in Japanese culture, fish heads are considered a great present because the cheeks are the most tender part of the fish. Another Asian fusion restaurant I like that’s in Ixelles is Old Boy. It has a great atmosphere, great drinks and gorgeous homemade coconut ice cream.

Thick, Cheesy Burgers and Housemade Belgian Frites

Les Super Filles du Tram is where I go for burgers in Ixelles. It makes homemade Belgian fries but you can order onion rings or sweet potato fries if you prefer. The burger isn’t too soggy but it’s really cheesy, the patty is thick, and it comes in a sesame bun. The burger I had last time came with truffle-mayonnaise, tomato confit and rocket. At €15 for a burger with fries, it’s pricey but it’s worth it. If you don’t feel like leaving the house you can have it delivered, too. 

Breweries Within The City

My favourite places to go and have a beer are the three breweries in Brussels. The first one is Cantillon in Anderlecht that makes lambic beers which are very iconic to Brussels. I met [owner] Jean through the restaurant, but now he’s a friend. Cantillon has a beer museum so you can go and learn about how Gueuze [a sour Belgian beer] is made. In Vallée de la Senne, you’ve got this bacteria that’s essential to making Gueuze. It’s an appellation of origin: a beer that’s only made in this part of Belgium. You cannot call it a Gueuze if it’s made somewhere else. You can still make lambic beers with spontaneous fermentation but it won’t be a Gueuze. Another one in Anderlecht is L’Ermitage which has a taproom in Saint-Gilles. It also serves cocktails on tap, like spritzes and G&Ts. The third one is Brasserie de la Mule in Schaerbeek in the northern part of Brussels. You can visit the brewery, speak to the brewers and basically drink your beer on tap and enjoy an outdoors area as well. Anyone can visit the three breweries, but call in advance to make sure they’ll be open. 

A Beer Bar Recognised By Guinness World Records 

Delirium is the name of a beer as well as one of the biggest tap houses in Belgium with a lot of rooms inside. It’s in the tourist centre and I think it’s the most visited beer bar in Brussels: it’s in the Guinness World Records for its beer selection. On the same street it’s got a vodka bar, a tequila bar, an absinthe bar and a rum bar. Delirium isn’t a place I frequent but I mention it because it’s the kind of place you may want to visit if you’re in Brussels because of its massive beer selection. 

Where The Locals Go To Drink Beer

I prefer to go to Moeder Lambic when I crave a beer because you don’t feel like just a number there. Also, it’s amazing. It has a very good selection of beers with maybe 20 on tap. It doesn’t only sell Belgian beers, but focuses mostly on lambics and other specialty beers from Brussels. I love going there on Sunday nights because it does a proper raclette. You take your knife and pour this cheesy, hot lava on your potato and charcuterie. Jean, the owner, is a very nice person: the kind of person you want to hug when you see. His bar is in Saint-Gilles and every Monday there’s a food stall market during the day in City Hall Square. You’ll find anything from Asian to Italian food there, and cheese and charcuterie trucks. I love to go around seven or eight in the evening to a food truck called El Camion after picking up some beers from Moeder Lambic, which is like a one-minute walk. El Camion makes very good burgers. The last time I was there I ordered one with a patty of boudin noir (blood sausage) in a soft bun. I had it with a nice, low ABV IPA from L’Ermitage and it was just what I needed to wash the burger down and refresh my palate. Chef Joel does street food now but has worked in some good restaurants in Brussels. I also love to go to L’Amère à Boire behind Flagey Square: it’s got another location in Uccle as well. It has a very good beer selection and a very local state of mind.

Beer and Bread: The Basis of Civilisation

Sourdough is life, putain! You cannot tell whether the bread or the beer came first. They’re pretty much the same product, one is to eat and the other one is to drink. But they’re both the basis of our civilisation. I personally like the bread at Boulengier in Saint-Gilles. Grain is also very good. I’m friends with some of the guys who work there. The owner Paul-Antoine also owns wine bar Rebel and a restaurant in Ixelles called Ötap. He’s really good at what he does. I’ve also eaten well at Rebel. I remember that even their bread and butter was phenomenal. The bread is obviously from Grain and is served with an amazing beurre noisette. 

A Bakery Famous For Baking Amazing Fruit Tarts

Renard Bakery is another great bakery that has some of the most amazing fruit tarts. If someone invites me over to their house, I never go empty-handed. I was invited to a dinner around there one night and luckily Renard was open. I was in line for 10 minutes eyeing off these amazing fruit tarts and watching them disappear before my eyes. When it was the turn of the guy in front of me, there were three tarts left. He bought two and left me one, maybe out of courtesy. I love the cherry tart and the marble cake has an amazing chocolate glaze.

Sourdough Pizza That Locals Queue For

Nona is a very good sourdough pizza place in Sainte Catherine. There’s always a queue there but it’s always worth it. It uses organic Belgian ingredients and it just opened a pasta restaurant next door that I haven’t tried yet but if it’s as good as the pizza then it must be amazing. 

The Best Places in Brussels To Buy Produce and Ingredients 

In Sainte Catherine I also like to go to Noordzee (Mer du Nord). It’s actually a fish shop but you can eat outside on some stands. It’s the kind of atmosphere I love because it reminds me of the food markets of Camden in North London. You can have some good seafood cooked on a plancha grill, or some fish soup to warm you up if it’s a cold day, which is often in Brussels. I love when the shop has razor clams and cooks them on the plancha with garlicky sauce and fresh parsley. It’s nothing pretentious and it’s all about the products. They’re fresh, they’re good, and you can buy your fish there. On the same street you’ve got Dierendonck, one of the best butcheries in Belgium. It has good sausages and amazing meat cuts with some aged options. It’s got a few shops around and has its own animals so you know where the meat is coming from. Le Marché de la Glacière is where I buy my organic greens and vegetables. It’s in Saint-Gilles and has a very good price-to-quality ratio. I also love working directly with local producers and don’t mind walking the extra mile to get the good stuff.

On My To-Do List

I haven’t been to Habibi yet but Sabine, who was involved in the creation of the place, has worked with us at Bouchery and is a very good soul. There really isn’t the equivalent of this kind of a place in Brussels, not on the quality nor design front. It’s got a great aesthetic and modern Levantine food. I’m waiting for the lunch service to be launched so that I can make it over.

The Perfect Brussels Souvenir 

Before leaving Brussels you should pass by Maison Dandoy for some very good biscuits and speculoos (spiced gingerbread cookies). It’s very good quality stuff and it’s not too pricey. It’s got a few shops around the city so you can easily find it.

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