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Palmerston Square + Marie-Louise Square + Ambiorix Square Brussels + Gustave Strauven

Art for Art Nouveau’s Sake | Cultural Capital 

Just as Josep Puig i Cadafalch is overshadowed by Gaudí, so Victor Horta steals the limelight from Gustave Strauven. Monsieur Strauven was a protégé of Monsieur Horta. His pièce de résistance is a sliver of a building on Ambiorix Square, Brussels’ finest address. He designed and built this house, as slim as a Parisian Métro station beacon, for the painter George Saint-Cyr between 1901 and 1903. It’s a slender symphony of sinuous wrought iron lines dancing across a stone façade, a single bay four metre wide work of art, a magnificent manifesto to all things Art Nouveau. Above a lower ground floor truncated Sunset Boulevardesque staircase, projecting and inset balconies weave and wander up the building, feathery columns as thin as bedposts propping up a first floor viewing gallery; then more twists and turns until finally reaching a crescendo – ta da! – a top floor circular loggia. In front of the house, the greenery of Ambiorix Square slopes down to the greenery and water of Palmerston Square which in turn falls towards the water of Marie-Louise Square. In the distance lies the city of diplomats.

Luxury Restaurants

Scheltema Restaurant Brussels +

Brussels Sprouts

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While the horses for (main) courses saga runs amok across Britain, Lavender’s Blue decided it was time to cross the channel to brunch in Brussels. This may sound like the best idea since Patty Hearst thought she’d call by a San Fran bank armed with a semiautomatic, but bear with. Crazy has a new? Not yet. Destination known: Scheltema, a seafood restaurant. In the lexicon of dining spaces, this is the Belgian capital’s answer to J Sheekey. Every cloud, and all that.

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Understated frontage along Rue des Dominicains, a five minute stroll from Grand Place, belies its pedigree, the silver lining. More art nouveau than nouveau riche, Scheltema has been a favoured dining spot of the Almanach de Gotha and the like for the last 30 years. La belle époque never ended – it’s forever la fin de la siècle in this discreet part of Ilôt Sacré district.

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Beyond the awnings and morning yawnings, the interior is an indulgence of rich wooden panelling, polished brass railings, leather seating and rows of green shaded hanging lamps reflected in oval mirrors. Towards the rear of the restaurant, Thierry and Christian, the ebullient chefs, create a buzz in the open kitchen overlooked by diners. The service is equally energetic and fun.

The menu combines classic dishes with dancingly delicate dashes of individuality. Highlights include shrimp croquettes with fried parsley (€14); pan sautéed scampi with garlic (€20); and crisp Nobashi shrimps, sesame oil and butter (€19). Washed down with pinot gris Mader d’Alsace, 2011 (€32). De rigeur. Rrrrr. The day has truly begun. Coffee is served with a box of Biscuits Belges Artisanaux.

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Place du Grand Salon, on the far side of Grand Place, provides the perfect setting for an early afternoon walk. At the weekend, stripy antiques stalls spring up under the watchful gothic grandeur of Église Notre-Dame de la Chapelle. Further uphill is its little town planning sibling, Place du Petit Sablon. Narrow streets climb past a wedge shaped garden, statuary framed against a verdant backdrop, up to the neoclassical façade of Palais d’Egmont. Once the seat of the Princes of Arenberg, it now houses the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Such fun.