Flying the flag for Brusels’ Horeca sector in “difficult times”

Martin Banks

Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper), Les Marolles is one of the best-known areas in Brussels and, for many, that is due to its famous Sunday flea market.

The area, in the shadow of the city’s huge Palace of Justice (and Big Wheel), still boasts a daily antiques market and attracts hordes of tourists and visitors from Europe and, indeed, all over the world.

You cannot doubt its authenticity: the real Brusseleer (a Brussels dialect) is even still spoken here by some.

But Marolles is notable also for at least one other thing and that is Le Wine Bar des Marolles, a place which (like the district itself) oozes old-style charm and ambiance, two things which are, sadly, seem to be slowly vanishing from Brussels’ Horeca scene.

The resto’s owners, having successfully survived (unlike many) the harsh ravishes of the coronavirus health pandemic, are now facing at least one other problem: people who do not honor bookings.

Called “no shows” this is a big inconvenience, not least as it means the booked table could be offered to other people.

“It is a problem and something people need to think about,” says Joel Vandenhoudt, who is the co-owner along with Vincent Thomaes. “It is all about bad manners really and, to be honest, it is mostly caused by tourists who fail to notify us if they cannot keep a booking.”

Joel says the issue comes against a backdrop of “two very difficult years” caused by the health crisis.

“Yes, it has been a difficult period because of the lockdowns but, even so, we are quite confident for the future,” adds Joel who also runs a wine/art shop next door (artwork displayed in the resto can also be purchased).

First-time visitors to the resto should not be mistaken by the name.

While the wine served here is excellent so too is the rather lovely food.

Located on two floors, it is housed in a beautiful 17th-century building on a bustling street at the heart of what most regard as the city’s most historic area (Marolles). Cozy, intimate, and welcoming it can seat up to 75, including on a terrace (useful with spring on the horizon).

Belgians Joel and Vincent combine various skills, ranging from wine brokers to lovers of good art.

The menu is created by a talented chef, Alex Van Kalck, who takes pride in ensuring that all the products are fresh, first-class quality, and seasonal. He also takes great pleasure in highlighting the magnificent products sourced from small, conscientious producers.

The resto also offers the possibility of celebrating a special occasion, such as birthdays, in two pretty rooms located on the 1st floor and decorated with numerous paintings that will make guests feel “at home”. These, mostly by 19th-century Belgian artists, can be bought and can also be found next door at a wine and art shop the two men also own.
The menu is not particularly long but, what do they say: it is quality (not quantity) that counts.

You can, maybe, a touch of tapas (jambon oblique or saucisson et chorizo), permanent mainstays on a menu that is changed at least every month (details updated on its website in three languages) or launch straight into the super starters, including (on the latest menu) pork cheeks and vinaigrette leek before being tempted by the marvellous mains card which currently feature dishes like lamb tenderloin, skrei (matured cod) and duck breast.
There are some equally lovely desserts and, of course, great wines. It all rounds off what is a very satisfying dining experience.

You will most certainly not be disappointed whatever your choice and, considering the very top quality, the prices are all rather reasonable too.

For 25 years Vincent was at the acclaimed Chateau du Mylord in Ellezelles, near Tournai where he oversaw one of the most wonderful gourmet institutions in Wallonia.

Wishing to have his own business, Vincent, also a trained sommelier, moved to Brussels to launch this resto. It was originally situated in the nearby Sablon but relocated to its present position in 2013, just along from the famous Sunday flea market that still attracts thousands of visitors, especially at weekends (Bill Clinton visited the area during his presidency).

Newly released data (by Belgian trade federation Comeos) shows that Belgians are, these days, eating out less than in the past or opting for fast food joints (partly due to the cost of living “crisis).

This will be a matter of concern to many restaurants but, if there’s any justice, this terrific place will continue to be a “beacon of hope” for the city’s struggling horeca sector (closed Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday).

Le Wine Bar des Marolles
198 rue Haute, Brussels
02 503 6250

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Brussels Morning is a daily online newspaper based in Belgium. BM publishes unique and independent coverage on international and European affairs. With a Europe-wide perspective, BM covers policies and politics of the EU, significant Member State developments, and looks at the international agenda with a European perspective.
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Martin Banks is an experienced British-born journalist who has been covering the EU beat (and much else besides) in Brussels since 2001. Previously, he had worked for many years in regional journalism in the UK and freelanced for national titles. He has a keen interest in foreign affairs and has closely followed the workings of the European Parliament and MEPs in particular for some years.