Next month marks some key milestones for one of Brussels’ best eateries.
On October 10 Rouge Tomate celebrates 18 years since it was launched and three years since the opening of its (highly popular) cocktail bar above it. Oh, and it is also the 48th birthday of co-owner Thierry Naoum.
This year also marks the 10th anniversary of when Thierry’s business partner, Alex Joseph, first arrived at the restaurant.
That was back in 2009 when he joined as executive chef having come to the attention of Thierry at the New York version of Rouge Tomate.
That restaurant has now closed but the Brussels “branch” has gone from strength to strength.
Three years ago, it opened “Alice”, a cocktail bar located directly above the restaurant on Avenue Louise which has proved particularly popular so much so that is now ranked the 5th best cocktail bar in the entire country.
The bar tries to evoke a “1930s atmosphere” and is open from Tuesday to Saturday (6pm to 1am) and is also available for events. One recommended option is to have a drink before or after a meal downstairs.
Alex, who hails from California, and Brussels-born Thierry are (backed by a hard working team) very much the brains behind this success story.
Thierry, a fourth generation Belgian/Moroccan – his grandfather first arrived in Belgium back in 1934 – started work at Rouge Tomate as a relatively humble head waiter.
He was trained at a business school in Brussels and very much regards finance at his forte. He helped to open the New York version in 2008 which is when he first encountered Alex.
Alex was one of an astonishing 80 chefs who were working at what, at the time, was the biggest resto in Manhattan.
Impressed by Alex’s record there, Thierry gave him the chance to come to Brussels, an invite he readily accepted.
When Rouge Tomate because available, the pair purchased it and have been business partners ever since.
The intervening years have not been without their difficulties, including the terrible 2016 terrorist attacks that paralysed the horeca trade here. Other challenges have included the tunnel closures on Avenue Louise that hit trade in the area generally.
All these problems, and others, have been overcome and the restaurant, which seats 75 inside along with the same number on the terrace, is doing better than ever.
If Thierry looks after the finances (plus the wine card), the food is very much the preserve of Alex who has a great reputation in Brussels for his culinary skills.
The menu is tweaked frequently so as to ensure that only the most seasonal – and freshest – products and ingredients are used.
The business lunch – a starter, main and coffee – is especially popular, not least as it is just €35. There’s also a discovery menu carte blanche (unavailable at lunchtime), as a well as a delightful a la carte featuring some very inventive fish, meat and other dishes.
The food is delicious and the portions are also generous.
Playing a key role in this is Ali Selmi, aged just 25, who used to work at a brasserie in Brussels but, for the past four months, has been No.2 to Alex in the kitchen. Ali, from Brussels, credits Alex – voted 4th young best chef in the world in 2011 – with mentoring him and says that it has been under his tutelage that he has really learned what it is to be truly passionate about food.
“I am learning from Alex every day,adds Ali. “He has taught me everything I know.”
Knowing the time and effort that Alex puts into his cooking that should come as no surprise to anyone.
If you wondered about the name, the red was chosen for passion while tomate is equated with good health. Suffice to say that the choice of name is perfectly keeping with the concept at Rouge Tomate.