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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.

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Lady Colefax + Belgrave Square London

 Social Twirl

Belgrave Square © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

More epicurean shenanigans. It’s barely midday in London – but it’s almost midnight in Shanghai. Cakewalk-o’clock. Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder, so we’re off to join fellow sophisticates for a G+T at the O+C. And maybe prawn starter, swordfish main and cold pudding from the trolley. Pall Mall is the new Vauxhall when it comes to clubbing, dress code not Bar Code (yesteryear’s utopia a distant dystopia), house white instead of house music, the dance floor now a marble floor. Eagle eyed viewers will have noticed Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack’s son The Travellers Club, a few mahogany doors down from the O+C, was the star of The Riot Club. Non sequitur alert perhaps, but George Orwell is forever spot on: “A duke is a duke, even in exile.” Another epiphanic afternoon imbued with meaning, as passionate as Conor Harrington’s Dance With the Devil, as poignant as Douglas Gordon’s BBW, as enigmatic as Miaz Brothers’ Master #6, as serene as Vespers at Brompton Oratory, as choreographed as The Bling Ring.

The day ain’t over yet. Like social moths fluttering below a dusty light, we’re off to Belgrave Square as guests of the Italian Embassy. To quote Lady Colefax, “We’ve of course slipped back into the ballet, opera, dining whirl which is very pleasant.” Seven-o-clock shadow. The Italians aren’t the only overseas residents to occupy Cubitt’s hallowed 1820s quadrilateral, a paean to pillared neoclassicism. International neighbours include Alderney bankers (Barclay bros), oligarchs (Oleg Deripaska), Qatari royals (Sheikh Jassim) and Dubai head honchos (Sheikh Mohammed). Having the coffers to cough up £60 million over a coffee (cold milk, coloured sugar crystals thanks) on a coffered terraced house is their one thing in common. Quick! Time to absquatulate. Dring dring, dring dring. What would Jacqueline Duncan think? Mrs Duncan to you. “I’m interested in taste,” says the founder of Inchbald. “My school is about philosophy.” At day’s end, before we close the wooden shutters on our stream of consciousness, we reflect on the ostensible realism and symbolist deployment of our structural patchwork. Thank goodness there’s only one shade of Grey Gardens. We twirl.