The Au Vieux Saint-Martin is a Brussels institution that needs no introduction. Serving Belgian specialities since its opening in 1968, it can be found in one of Brussels most prestigious squares, the Sablon.
The owners of the restaurant, Albert-Jean and his son Frédéric Niels, whose family have a long-standing tradition running restaurants, have recently opened a second restaurant, Au Grand Forestier in the south of Brussels in the commune of Watermael Boitsfort.
It is one of those places which only locals or people in the know will visit. Set just next to the Forest des Soignes, you will find it hard to believe that you are only a few kilometres away from the Brussels city centre.
A typical Belgian brasserie, it serves all the traditional Belgian dishes such as the steak tartare or ‘Américain’ with fries, or tomatoes stuffed with crayfish. This is an ideal place for tourists coming to Brussels and wanting to find a typical Belgian brasserie that is off the beaten track. They will also get to know why Brussels is one of the ‘greenest’ cities in Europe.
With a focus on all things Belgian, from the interior design to the furniture, art and produce, Frédéric Niels told Food and Wine Gazette that they wanted to open a restaurant with a beautiful terrace, one which they could buy, where parking was not a problem and where there was less pollution than in central Brussels.
“This place ticked all the boxes for us,” Niels told us on a recent press visit. “We are still happy with the Au Vieux San Martin but we wanted something complementary for our regulars who might prefer not to go to the city centre. We are also looking for new clients from the South of Brussels. Moreover, there is not much competition in the area for what we are attempting to do,” he said.
The restaurant serves typical Belgian fare and while there are the regulars on the menu, five to six items change each month depending on the season. “Everything is prepared in house. From sauces to stocks, our famous croquettes made with crayfish, ice-cream, Belgian chocolate mousse, the philosophy of the house, led by chef Pascal Goblet is to create everything from scratch.”
Niels said they are looking forward to serving game in the coming weeks when the season opens in the Brussels region on 15 October. “Our philosophy is to follow the seasons. So when the restaurant opened in late April, we were serving asparagus and grilled meats among others.”
He is proud of the fact that nothing the restaurant uses is frozen. “We focus on the quality of the ingredients and on the freshness and we take pride of the fact that everything is prepared in house. There is nothing fancy like sous-vide in our cooking so we are entirely flexible to what the clients want,” he says.
The ‘french’ fries are still cooked using beef fat which has become quite rare nowadays.
Au Grand Forestier is annexed to one of the nicest Middle Ages hunting park. It is housed in a typical early 20th century house typical of the Boisfort area of Brussels.
The restaurant was designed by architect Anne-Catherine Lalmand in collaboration with designer Alain Berteau. The restaurant also features various paintings by contemporary artists Swennen, Reinhoud, Dotremont, Mortier and Mesens.
Address: Au Grand Forestier, 2, Avenue du Grand Forestier, Watermael Boitsfort.