Transparency and traceability in the food chain is something we hear a lot about these days and a lot of restaurants like to talk about it.
The sad truth is that many pay only lip service when it comes to actually putting the transparency and openness mantra into practice.
Happily, there are some exceptions and Les Brigittines is one of them.
This well-established restaurant, near the fashionable Sablon area of Brussels, is a member of the Slow Food Chefs Alliance Belgium, one of whose objectives is to ensure the local producers and suppliers are not overlooked in meeting the apparently inexhaustible culinary demands of the Belgian market. Buying local also helps the local economy, of course.
So, what does Les Brigittines do about this? Well, for a start it devotes a whole page on its menu to listing all the suppliers of the products used in its kitchen.
This applies to its poultry, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables and extends to even the source of the bread and coffee it offers.
The beer suppliers are also cited: Cantillon brewery and Senne brewery and other micro-breweries.
The only exception are the wine suppliers but, here, the restaurant has a good excuse, pointing out that it works with so many suppliers that it is difficult to list them all on one page. Even so, it does state that the “common feature is that they are all in search of terroir and biodynamic wines.”
The supplier list is important to owner and head chef Dirk Myny who is proud to work mostly with Belgian producers (the only exception, on the food front, being the meat which is sourced from the Basque country and Northern Spain).
The beef cheek, as it happens, is one of the tastiest dishes on the card. This is braised for no less than 4 hours in Cantillon kriek beer which gives the meat a touch of acidity, It is served with cream (which partly offsets the acidity) and veg.
This is a speciality of the house and one of the customer favourites, along with cod “Willem”, marinated for 2 days in algae and Jura wine.
Of the starters, a couple of best sellers/favourites are the pig’s trotter from Saint Chinian, served with capers, gherkins, hard boiled egg and thickened juice.
Another fave is the seared Basque streaky bacon, served with tuna tartare, lime and ginger.
The Zenne pot is another house speciality that is recommended and consists of cabbage cooked in Cantillon gueuze.
The streaky bacon and beef cheek also feature on the 4 course fixed menu which, considering the quality, is very affordable (this may come with matching wines).
In truth, whatever you opt for here you are unlikely to be disappointed.
The restaurant was taken over by Dirk some 26 years ago and now enjoys an enviable reputation in what is a fiercely competitive industry, not least in Brussels and Belgium.
On the wall is a photo of a 16-year-old Dirk being trained by one of the top chefs of the day (Eddy Van Maele). Dirk worked under him for 3 years and later went on to work with other top chefs here who mentored him in his formative years.
Now aged 55, Dirk oversees a highly successful business and a restaurant that is frequently fully booked, even on normally quiet midweek nights.
Born in Dilbeek, Brussels to a Flemish father and French-speaking mother, Dirk oversees things in the kitchen where he himself is now mentoring the next generation of chefs, both male and female.
At present, his chefs are from Albania and Italy while his staff also include people from Angola and Romania.
Little wonder that Dirk is given to jest that he is the only Belgian working here!
It is a mini United Nations but all are hard working and dedicated to ensuring that this restaurant maintains its hard-earned reputation for quality cuisine.
The interior, like the food, is a treat. Located in what (50 years ago) was a post office, it oozes charm, warmth and authenticity. At least 80 per cent of the décor is the same as it was when Dirk took over. After being trained under several Michelin-starred chefs it was the first – and to date, only – restaurant that he’s owned.
With the summer fast approaching Dirk plans to tweak the menu to include more summery fayre such as gazpacho and mozzarella along with more grilled fish.
It all augurs well for a place that definitely maintains Belgium’s excellent reputation for great food.