La Buvette has been on my radar for quite some time. Nicolas Scheidt, the young French chef of this restaurant in St Gilles, Brussels, was nominated as “a future great chef” for Brussels and its surroundings in the Gault&Millau guide.
That should be enough of an indication of the quality of the restaurant. For one reason or another, it was difficult to find the right time to visit this restaurant. I recall one time we tried to go on a Monday evening only to find out it was closed. On another occasion it was closed for holidays. An attempt for lunch also did not materialise because the restaurant was closed.
It is always a risk when you go to a restaurant with high expectations but in this case, I walked out of the restaurant wondering how could it be possible that it took me so long to visit this restaurant.
If you go to La Buvette you need to know that there is no a la carte menu. What they offer are two menus (one called Large and another XL). The difference between the two menus is that the smaller one has two dishes less. They say, however, that they do cater for vegetarians or people who have allergies.
The menu changes every month and is based on what’s in season. This former butcher’s shop has been converted into a cosy restaurant. I would describe the restaurant as serving very sophisticated food in a relaxed environment. Don’t expect the service of a Michelin starred restaurant (though this does not mean that the service is bad) but the food is clearly inventive and sophisticated.
We started with three amuse bouches. The first was mackerel, black garlic and corn. It was an interesting combination of flavours. This was followed by a small porcini mushroom shortbread which was excellent and with an incredible depth of flavour. But the hint that this would be a special evening came from the next amuse bouche. A smoked beetroot puree with black olive powder served with a white chocolate foam with hints of rosemary. Now the combination of white chocolate with black olives was probably first created by Ferran Adria at the world famous el Bulli but many chefs have gone to elaborate on that shocking combination. In this case Scheidt’s creation was exceptional, the rosemary giving the white chocolate a savoury taste which married well with the beetroot and black olives.
This was followed by a chestnut puree, raw and cooked cauliflower with bay leaves which was another perfectly executed combination. Ricotta and spinach is a very common combination in Italy. But here Scheidt combined the ricotta with shallots and with a black sesame sauce which gave the combination a great complexity of flavours.
The next course used the pumpkin (in season) as the base. It was matched with grapefruit for acidity (fresh and dried) and smoked trout. Again the dish was perfectly executed.
The next course was probably my least favourite though still very good. Octupus was cooked in a tempura (perfect) and topped with a wasabi mayonnaise. A dashi bouillon was added to the plate which included Chinese cabbage and red fruits. The combination was interesting but not as stunning as the previous dishes.
However what followed was exceptional. They say comparisons are odious but the last time I ate eel was at the world renowned Osteria Francescana which started the menu with this dish (memorable). At La Buvette, the smoked eel was served on top of mashed potatoes with yogurt and a langoustine bisque and topped with a dried onion. The end result was exceptional.
What followed was a slow cooked cheek of beef with two types of turnip tops. The meat’s texture was perfect and cooked to perfection.
The main courses over it was time for dessert. The first two were again very inventive. Quince was mixed with an estragon sorbet and a meringue of coal ashes. The second was a caramel foam with a jerusalem artichoke ice-cream and a rice flour sponge. Both were inventive and excellent. The last course was a chocolate dish which included a dark chocolate tart and a salty hazelnut praline.
All in all this was an evening which went way beyond our expectations. The quality/price ratio is exceptional in my opinion. The large menu costs Euro 45 while the XL menu (the above) cost Euro 55 which, for what you get, is a very fair price.
Verdict: There is little to say other than recommend this restaurant. Don’t make the mistake we made and wait for too long. In our view, it will become harder to book a table in future. Scheidt is an inventive chef who is bold enough to experiment but his combinations work perfectly. In our view he will go far.
La Buvette is on Chaussee d’Alsemberg 108 St Gilles, Bruxelles (opposite Cafe des Spores). It is open for lunch from Wednesday to Friday and for dinner from Tuesday to Saturday.