Architecture Art Luxury People Restaurants Town Houses

Maison + Bistrot du Cygne Brussels

Off Our Trolley

On the gastronauts’ bridge of broad horizons, Brussels looms large, radiating racy and irresistible attraction. It ranks third – after Paris and London – in the Michelin Cities Guide. We’ve loved bistronomique at Scheltema and adored haute cuisine at Comme Chez Soi, so now we’re lusting after haute bistronomique in the thoroughly upholstered intensely mirrored supremely polished Maison du Cygne on Grand Place.

This 17th century former guildhall is gilded to the nines with golden capitals, corbels and a monogram of the architect Pierre Fariseau’s initials. A gold footed and beaked swan emerges from the fanlight over the entrance door. Stone guilt free angels guard the mansard cum bonnet cum domed roof.

The restaurant is a room of dreams: of shape, form, textures and tensions. Ebullience, rather than restraint, is its theme. This is not one restaurant: it is multiple dining rooms, moods, scenes and dramas. The result of multilayered endeavours. Maison du Cygne is a lesson in what Jacqueline Duncan, the Founder and Principal of Europe’s first interior design school, calls “the very grammar of the profession”. That is, the history of design, furniture and fittings.

And what of the Belgo French cuisine? Benjamin van Malleghem, the Majordome, recommends an off-menu seasonal Flemish starter: white asparagus with buttery scrambled egg. We get it. Continuing the high protein diet, we select a low cooked egg accompanied by chervil and sea shrimps main course. Crème brûlée with Madagascar vanilla is a flawless construct filled with passion – and calories. The food is as ripe and original as the revamped interiors.

Opening with O+C Club favourite St Véran Maison Joseph Drouhin 2017, upon Benjamin’s suggestion we move on to Domaine du Colombette 2016. “It’s by a small yet distinguished winemaker. This Chardonnay is rich and full bodied,” we’re advised. And as gold as the architectural trimmings on Maison du Cygne’s façade. “In the 1980s, Maison du Cygne had three Michelin stars. We have recently relaunched under new ownership. We want it to have a relaxing atmosphere – something a bit different,” says Benjamin, pointing to the leopard skin patterned chairs and contemporary French paintings.

Another O+C Club favourite is the puddings trolley, a sweet chariot of temptation. A faded photograph over the bar shows the restaurant in the 1980s. The trolley – still in use – takes pride of place against a recognisable powerfully carpeted forcefully panelled overwhelmingly lampshaded backdrop. Maison du Cygne: it’s an encore, not a swansong.


St Mary Magdalene Church + St Anne’s Chapel Brussels

Work Hard Pray Hard

An incarnational habit.

One of the city’s oldest churches in Brussels is a medieval stone’s throw from Grand Place. Established by the Brothers of Mercy in the 13th century, St Mary Magdalene is something of a miraculous survival. Two aisles were added in the 15th century and then 200 years later, the whole church was rebuilt. It was abandoned in the early 20th century and almost demolished during urban redevelopment. Fortunately, its historic and architectural value was finally recognised in the 1950s when the building was restored. The Chapel of St Anne, formerly on nearby Rue de la Montagne, was rebuilt and attached to the church. The 1615 baroque stone façade of St Anne’s contrasts with the gothic brick elevations of St Mary’s. Yet the building displays a remarkable unity, a testament to mid 20th century good heritage practice.

In excelsis Deo.

Luxury Restaurants

Scheltema Restaurant Brussels +

Brussels Sprouts

1 Scheltema Brussels copyright

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.

2 Scheltema Brussels copyright

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.

Basic CMYK

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.

4 Scheltema Brussels copyright

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.