White Star, Bright Star in Brussels
One of our most memorable dining experiences in Europe was an evening spent in the lovely Stirwen Restaurant. Not on the beaten path, Stirwen is located in the Etterbeek neighborhood west of Brussels, just two kilometers away from the center of the city. Thus, tourists are not likely to stumble upon it as they traipse around the Grand Place. One has to make a deliberate attempt to find this location. But once you do, you will not be disappointed.
While the ambience is not pretentious, it is welcoming. The focus is clearly on the food. One of the first things your server may tell you is that the portions are generous. “The chef does not try to make little drawings on the plate,” was his apt expression for the hearty meal you can expect to find here.
We sat down to a degustation menu that was a creative expression of the chef’s culinary talents. The printed menu presented a number of excellent choices but our server explained that this restaurant took pride in its flexibility to offer the freshest ingredients found at the market that very day. “If the chef doesn’t find what is on the menu, he chooses other options because they are better.” Later in our meal, Executive Chef Francois-Xavier Lambory came out and explained that he had to reject certain fish brought to him earlier in the day, because they did not meet his standards.
Our first appetizer, an amusé bouche, was simply called “Mackeral rinnettes.” Rinnettes is anything cooked for a long time in its own fat, then thickened with cream. Our appetizer of marinated mackeral tartare was served on a crouton and seasoned with herbs. We were off to a great start!
The second appetizer was quail served on a bed of greens with finely diced pistachios. Along with it was served our first wine pairing, a 2013 Luberon from Côtes du Rhône named La Ciboise. It was produced by the famous vintner M. Chapoutier. Consisting of a blend of four wines, of which Grenache Blanc was the principal grape (also Vermentino, Ugni Blanc and Roussanne), this pale, golden wine was fresh, light and fruity with a hint of lemon—a perfect choice for the first pairing.
Next came tuna and duck fois gras. The taste of India was evident in the tandoori red spice, coriander and coffee oil that were used in the delicate alternating slices of tuna and fois gras.
Our second wine was clearly the favorite of our sommelier and co-owner, Mr. David Rasson. This was a 2010 Hautes Côtes de Nuits from the Domaine de la Douaix in Bourgogne (Burgundy). A 100% chardonnay from the Burgundy region, it had a terrific oakiness with great finish. Our sommelier brought out the Burgundy, large bowl-type wine glasses for this white wine, an uncharacteristic choice, but one made deliberately, so we could enjoy the full aroma of this special vintage.
Our fourth course was a filet of sole from Noirmoutier served with Langoustine from Guilvenec. Baby vegetables, also from Noirmoutier (the Normandy coast) were also served, along with a langoustine crème. The excellently prepared fish with the accompanying sauce was an incredible delight.
Prior to the meat course a red wine was presented. The Chateau Bouscasse (2009) was of the Madiran appellation. The primary grape used was tannat, from which the word “tannin” is derived. For this reason, because of the astringency of the grape, it is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. A bold, hearty wine, it was the perfect match for our next presentation.
Our fifth course was a lovely veal, cut in four slices, served with morel mushrooms in a cream sauce made of vin jaune, an oxidated wine from the Jura region, in eastern France and Switzerland. The yellow-tinted wine (jaune) was unique, and our sommelier brought us each a taste to compare with the sauce. The marvelous sauce did not overpower but enhanced the morel mushrooms, available only in April and early May, a rare delicacy.
Seven dessert selections are found on the menu. First, there is a cheese selection. Next Strawberries with almond, pistachio, and white chocolate. This was my wife’s choice. The third selection is Tainori chocolate consisting of moelleux (like lava cake), cremeux, and croustillant (a crust). I could not resist this choice and I was happily rewarded for making it. The deep, dark chocolate from Madagascar was enhanced by a chocolate sorbet the chef added. Other selections include the locally famous Brussels Waffle, Crème Brulee, made with tonka bean from the teak tree (this was my second choice), fresh fruit, and Stirwen’s classic Dame Blanche (vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce).
Both chef and sommelier are co-owners of Stirwen, having opened just a few months ago, on October 7, 2014. The pair took over the restaurant from another team of entrepreneurs who returned from Congo in 1992 to open the first Stirwen which lasted nearly 22 years. Oddly, both iterations of the restaurant were opened on the same day in October. The name originates from the old dialect spoken in Brittany and means “white star.” Perhaps the choice to retain the name will serve as a good omen to these young entrepreneurs who have the skills and talent to become a raging success. They are supremely confident and know they have what it takes to persist in a very competitive industry. Their star is rising and their future is very bright.
Restaurant & Salle privée
Chaussée Saint-Pierre 15-17