The lockdown has caused devastation in the horeca sector in Brussels and elsewhere.
So bad has been the impact that some restaurants have, sadly, gone to the wall.
One notable exception, though, is L’Orchidée Blanche, a lovely eatery that has been a mainstay on the city’s restaurant scene for over two decades.
After the long confinement, it’s back in business and business really is booming for Katia Nguyen, its Vietnamese-born owner.
And the “recipe” for its success? Well, Katia says it’s the same ingredients that made a restaurant worth a visit before the coronavirus struck: food, atmosphere and service.
On each of these criteria this restaurant scores a hit. If there were any doubt on that you just need to observe the steady stream of diners looking for a table on any night of the week.
Katia concedes that things were slow to get going again after the long lockdown forced restaurants and other places in the horeca trade to close their doors.
But things are now getting back to normal, albeit with some of the now-familiar requirements such as the staff having to wear masks, hand gel at the entrance and the disposable paper menus.
The food, the main reason anyone visits a restaurant, is known to be excellent here and still does not disappointment.
If you are unfamiliar to Vietnamese cuisine, first bear in mind that in the north it is salty, spicy in the centre of the country and sweet in the south.
The cuisine here is from the south which is where Katia was born.
It might also help to know some of the best sellers on what is a very extensive menu. A top ten of the customer favourites include Wan-tan soup, nem croquettes, Got Thom, a cold starter, and Bo Lalot, a warm starter.
From the mains list, poulet croquant basilica tamarin is a favourite along with boeuf de Rangoon and canard sauté aux piments and scampis grillés à la citronnelle.
There is a very good choice too of rice and noodles and, from these, the Riz Royal is a firm customer favourite.
The menu also features specialities including la fondue Vietnamese imperial, served for two people and priced €54.
Much of the menu is the same as it was before the confinement but there are also some very nice new dishes recently introduced such as steamed bream cooked in a banana leaf, duck with a Thai basilic spice and scampi with tamarin sauce. The grilled tofu with lemon leaf and chicken with cashew nut are also very good.
When it comes to that second of Katia’s “success recipe” – atmosphere – this place also scores well. It is spread over two levels, each tastefully furnished and stylish, and there’s an outside garden terrace.
This restaurant, apart from the food and ambience, scores well on the third of three criteria for success – service.
Here you will notice something quite unusual: everyone is female, apart from the male sous chef.
In the kitchen, there’s Bui Trinh, Dryen Nguyen and Minh Trang, the three lady chefs, plus another five women who work front of house.
In Vietnam, where all the staff hail from, it is quite typical to find women, rather then men, in the kitchen so this “all female team” continues a long-standing Vietnamese tradition.
The ladies, all very polite and welcoming, are also turned out in quite beautiful traditional South Vietnamese tunics,each specially brought to Belgium from Vietnam.
Katia, who has been running this fine restaurant for over 20 years, forgot to mention that another “secret” of her (and her team’s) success is something a bit more prosaic – good,old fashioned hard work.
During the lockdown, everyone continued to work with the kitchen staff turning out countless takeaway deliveries for its loyal band of customers (it still does takeaways, with 10 per cent for spends of €25 and over).
Katia herself should now be on holiday in Spain but has chosen to stay with her staff to make sure the restaurant successfully re-launches after the long period of closure.
It is typical of the approach that has gained the restaurant recognition by Gaut and Millau and won it a loyal following.
The friendly Katia says, “I am very loyal to my customers and try to give of my best as do my team.”
“We try to serve delicious food and provide a nice, polite welcome. This is why we are so successful and are managing to survive what has been an awful period for the industry.”
Other restaurants come and go but it is not hard to see why L’Orchidée Blanche continues to do so well.