Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Brussels is the “capital of Europe” and home to the EU institutions and that message is being spread via an unexpected quarter.
Chez Leon, an “institution” in its own right, has been so successful in its promotional work abroad that many who flock there from overseas are also learning all about the EU too.
Many of its guests, some travelling from as far as Asia, are known to combine a visit to Chez Leon with sightseeing excursions to places like the European Parliament and other EU landmarks.
After the horrors of the health pandemic when many visitors from other countries were unable to come to Brussels and Belgium due to travel restrictions, the good news is that business is once again booming for the city’s once-devastated horeca sector.
None more so than Chez Leon where you’ll very often see long queues waiting patiently outside, a sure sign that the post-pandemic recovery really is in full swing in Brussels at least.
The restaurant, arguably the best known in the entire city, counts MEPs, parliamentary staffers, European commissioners and assorted EU officials among its regulars.
It’s become especially popular among visitors from Asia, such as Patrick Wang, visiting Brussels from Taiwan, who told this site:”I’d heard all about the restaurant so we had to try it. While here, we’ve decided to also visit the EU places of interest such as the parliamentarium too.”
The reason for its success among both locals and tourists is not difficult to understand: it combines very good food and very affordable prices.
You could say it’s even worth a visit just to look at the voluminous menu which must be unique in Brussels.
The first page, for instance, shows some of the people who have played such a key role in its story over many years such as Georges Vanlancker, photographed in his chef’s outfit in 1950 and, more up to date, his predecessors Rudy and Paul Vanlancker. The current owner, Kevin Vanlancker,is also there of course.
The wonderful images also show how the kitchen looked in 1955 and also the result of a major remodelling in 2005.
There is also a menu from as far back as 1890 which is a tad more modest than the 2022 version. One other thing to look for is the plaque dedicated to another of its most famous visitors in the past: Belgian icon Jacques Brel (try to get a seat where Brel himself used to sit when he came here to eat – other plaques alongside it are dedicated to fellow diners, Belgian singer Annie Cordy and Roland Giraud, the French actor).
All have been bewitched by not just the fabulous food here but the quite remarkable interior which is also almost worth a visit in its own right.
The best advice is to see it for yourself but you are sure to be staggered by the effort that’s gone into making any visit here a real all-round experience.
The menu itself is vast but features some great traditional Belgian dishes and a whole page devoted to what it calls “Belgastromie” where you’ll find everything from croquettes and waterzooi to filet Americain and carbonnades,plus (for desert) the restaurant’s very own “Gaufre/Wafel Leon”.
The card also has numerous photographs of many dishes, including the one Chez Leon is probably and rightly best known for: mussels (it’s mussels season so this is the best time to sample them). If you visit on Sunday evening the mussels are unlimited and,also good know, is that kids under 12 who are accompanied by a parent can eat free of charge.
The drinks list is equally impressive with a great wine selection and also the in-house beers “Leon” and “Georges”.
Anyone dining here will also be impressed by the friendliness and professionalism of all the staff, many of whom, like Raymond have been here many years.
This temple to “all things Belgian” has been a mainstay of the city of Brussels from as far back as 1893 and it is wonderful to see both Chez Leon and also the whole area around the nearby Grand Place once again returning to normal.