We’ve had our eye on La Buvette for a while, as several other food bloggers I know have been there and have been impressed. It’s owned by (and sits directly across the street from) Cafe des Spores, Brussels’ famous mushroom restaurant, which I also haven’t been to yet but I plan to rectify that as soon as possible.
The ground floor interior is beautifully decorated in white tile and curvy, dark wood, but when we arrived there was a photo shoot taking place down there, and they only have a handful of tables on the ground floor, so we were sent to the room on the first floor. This space had a more homely feel to it, although it was a little on the chilly side and the chairs weren’t especially comfortable.
We’d booked for 7:30 and arrived about ten minutes early, but once we were seated we were told that the kitchen didn’t open until 8, which was slightly frustrating as we could have gone somewhere else for a drink first if they’d let us know that beforehand.
There’s only a set menu, but you have the choice between eight or ten courses (skipping those in parentheses). We opted for the full ten.
Bread and butter arrived. We weren’t told what it was, but the butter seemed to have been flavoured with mustard seeds and herbs. It was still a little hard, and there was no plate for the bread so we got a lot of crumbs on the table, but it was very tasty. I also had a glass of an intriguingly dark and liquoricy wine whose name I can’t remember.
First starter: asparagus with a lemon mayonnaise and dried beef. The asparagus was al dente and the lemon cream was the dominant flavour; the beef was very subtle, almost to the point of not being there.
One small complaint I had was that we were expected to keep the same knife and fork for all of the starters, which meant that after each course I had to lick my knife clean so that the next dish didn’t taste of lemon cream, ricotta, or whatever else had been on the preceding plate. If you’re only eating a few courses I guess this is less of a problem, but for a ten course tasting menu I’d like clean cutlery, please.
Next was ricotta covered in spinach and topped with a black sesame sauce and toasted seeds. The ricotta portion (and indeed the whole dish) was larger than I expected, but very nice.
Foie gras with radish and daikon. Also nice.
But the next course was a flop. A raviolo containing black pudding (an intriguing idea) in a dashi broth. For some reason this was served in a deep, high-sided bowl which made it hard to reach down inside and get the raviolo out. As it was quite large I cut it in half first, but this meant that the black pudding spilled out and mixed with the dashi broth, creating a thick, lumpy mixture which I had to drink by tipping the bowl up to my mouth. This one needs to be re-thought.
The fish course: pollock with cream of potato and sweet peas. This was not as bland as I’d feared. The peas (and a touch of yoghurt and apple mixed in with the potato cream) gave it a surprisingly sharp tang. But the potato was so liquidy that I had to use a spoon, and I could even have drunk it with a straw.
Next, smoked eel. Tasty, but slightly spoiled by too much cold cress sauce.
A this point we’d been there for over two hours and service had slowed down considerably. We asked them if it were at all possible to speed up (making up a story about a babysitter deadline) and to their credit they did.
Fortunately the next course was one of the best of the evening. Beautifully seasoned duck dusted with cep: a confident balance of flavours including a sweet blood orange sauce and bitter endive.
Dessert. Goat’s milk cream with strawberries and mango ice cream. Nice, but the mango dominated a bit too much.
Chestnut ice cream, lime ice cream, kumquat. Also nice, but not much chestnut flavour.
And finally a chocolate cake with salted hazelnut flakes on top. The chocolate was too bitter for my taste and the flakes not salty enough. My wife didn’t finish hers.
On balance a pretty good meal let down by a couple of bad courses and some problems with service. I’d eat there again, but I won’t exactly rush back.