Chez Léon – Brussels

Excellent meaty moules and cosy American diner style at Chez Léon friture Bruxelloise

I recently read this article in The Telegraph Why I remain a fan of Brussels by Stanley Johnson. He spent over two decades living and working in the Belgian capital so his top five list of ‘favourite things in Brussels’ seemed like a trustworthy source. I was inspired to try out his favourite restaurant – Chez Léon (not realising that a branch had opened in London, called Léon de Bruxelles – and being unsuccessful – promptly closed).

And so I wandered over to the strip of tourist restaurants that is Rue des Bouchers, passing Le Bourgeois (where I enjoyed Flemish stew last month) to Chez Léon.

 

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Inside Chez Léon: casual American diner feel with cute murels 

 

Greeted and seated promptly, service was lively and friendly. It’s a large restaurant with several interior spaces that are sectioned off (to feel cosier), spread over several floors. And while it was busy, staff seemed to be on the ball, whizzing around and exchanging light-hearted comments. They seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Brightly lit with some neon signage and cute murels of ‘moules frites’ caricatures depicting key scenes of Belgian and Vanlancker family history, Chez Léon has a casual American diner feel – homely and comfortable, which I particularly enjoyed as I was dining alone.

The 12-page menu itself takes some digesting so I ordered a Delirium tremens (gorgeous Belgian beer but very strong) while reading.

 

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Mini Léon salad – fried moules, tomatoes, egg, potato, crème au poivre

I ordered a mini salad as a starter containing deep-fried moules or mussels in breadcrumbs. This was the first time I’d eaten moules this way – it’s really just another form of scampi and these were excellent.

 

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Delirium tremens – a few of these and you’ll be seeing more than pink elephants and parading crocodiles…
For main course, I had Léon spaghetti @ €16.25 – mussels (moules), shrimps, mushrooms and a cream sauce.

 

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Léon spaghetti – mussels (moules), shrimps, mushrooms and a cream sauce, as served

 

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Léon spaghetti absolutely gorgeous moules with shrimps and mushrooms in a cream sauce
I was reminded just how good moules can be when they’re done well. These were excellent – a really meaty texture and naturally tasty without being camouflaged by the flavour of other ingredients or sauce. The cream sauce on the spaghetti wasn’t ‘sickly creamy’ either but perfectly complemented all the flavours in this dish.

 

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Moules frites caricatures – showing milestones in Belgian history and Friture Léon‘s history

 

The verdict: I can see why Stanley Johnson used to eat here time and again. I would do too. You have to try moules in Belgium, right? This is a great place to do just that.

 

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 3.5 / 5
– Type: Belgian (in Belgium)
– Address: Rue des Bouchers 18, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
– Website + menus: Chez Leon website
– Photos on flickr: Chez Leon photos
– Location: Chez Leon map

 

Traditional Flemish stew at Le Bourgeois- Brussels

Traditional Carbonnades à la Flamande (Flemish stew) at Le Bourgeois

Arriving in Brussels by eurostar this evening, I walked over to the Manneken Pis and wandered around the Grand Place before stumbling across the strip of tourist restaurants that is Rue des Bouchers. I had – quite accidentally – arrived at the street where K and I ate on our first holiday abroad together back in 2001. It seemed like serendipity.

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Grand Place, Manneken Pis, Belgian beer and stew

On this quaint cobbled street of back-to-back restaurants, waiters tout the passers by (some more persistently than others) to drum up custom. So that hadn’t changed in 15 years. There was a nicely lively buzz without being too hectic. And being a warm summer evening some diners were sitting outside watching the world go by.

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Le Bourgeois – outside dining, tacky food boards

Many restaurants have low quality (ok, tacky) boards showing fairly unappealing food images – a universally understood visual menu nonetheless.

Somehow I became conditioned to the boards, and they not only became acceptable but the Carbonnades à la Flamande (Flemish stew) outside Le Bourgeois really grabbed my attention, even though I’d been hankering after fish.

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Carbonnades à la Flamande (Flemish stew)

I sat outside. The restaurant was completely empty indoors and only a couple of other tables were taken outside. Yet service was really slow. At first I was given a tourist menu (in English) and couldn’t find the stew. When I asked the waiter (in French) he exchanged the menu for the proper, full menu, acknowledging that the tourist menu contained limited choices.

This Flemish stew was absolutely gorgeous. Carbonnades à la Flamande  is made with shin beef which is sweeter than other parts and stews really well; the chunks were really soft and tasty and fell apart easily. It’s a bit like bœuf bourguignon but made with Belgian beer instead of red wine, making a really tasty gravy.

And talking of Belgian beer… A trappist (made by monks) Chimay beer accompanied this very well.

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Chimay – a Trappist beer

The verdict: Stick to the local ‘proper’ menu (avoid the tourist menu in English with limited choices) and soak up the atmosphere by sitting outside. If eating here, I recommend the Carbonnades à la Flamande (Flemish stew), it’s a bit like bœuf bourguignon but made with Belgian beer instead of red wine. Although, there are plenty of similar restaurants offering tourist menus on this quaint street so for traditional Belgian food and tasty moules, head to Chez Léon opposite.

 

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 3 / 5
– Type: Flemish/Belgian (in Brussels)
– Address: 17 Rue des Bouchers, Brussels
– Photos on flickr: Le Bourgeois photos
– Location: Le Bougeois map