It's Friday night and strains of Mozart welcome us in from the rain into an intimate Edwardian drawing room, dimly lit with candles and decorated with wallpaper, upholstered chairs and cushions, and looking out onto a enclosed courtyard with a magnolia tree.
I'm wearing my best cream-coloured coat for the occasion, and have made sure my companions are also suitably attired. Approaching the hotel in the dark and sans my glasses I mistake one of my friends waiting by the entrance for a doorman. Luckily he laughs and we move swiftly into the hotel, are relieved of coats and bedraggled umbrellas and given a circular table nearer the door: I hope this is no reflection of our relative youth compared to the other customers, or the fact that we have a particular menu with no advance warning and no choice. However our circular table is perfect for observing the refinement around us: the waiters at work, the expensive-looking wine labels and the paintings of the royal greenhouses at Laeken. At least I think that is what they are, but we are at The Brighton, and I think the sketch on the front of the menu is of the Royal Pavillion there. I don't see any reminders of the palms and hydrangeas of the serres royales, nor the extravagant interiors of the Pavillion, but this is a gently-themed restaurant for the well-heeled. Anyway, I like the paintings.
I'm here because the Brussels DiningCity restaurant week provides an opportunity to visit dining establishments that I would normally never consider trying, prinicipally on cost grounds (main courses are in the region of 30 euros). Our no-choice menu offers a starter, main course and dessert for a reasonable 27.50 euros. So far so good: but we must still deliberate the apéritif and wine that will accompany our meal (in restaurants such as these I struggle to avoid feeling uncomfortable and the bill always looms large on the horizon.)
We have an amuse-bouche to accompany the apéritif: some kind of ham on a bed of celery; which is tasty and dispatched without much thought. We move on to the rolls and butter. Some time afterwards and I am beginning to fidget. We're listening to Beethoven by now. The music is just at the right level, or would be if one of my ears was not still blocked by a persistent cold. Still, we manage to identify all the pieces we have listened to: Mozart Clarinet concerto, Beethoven's choral symphony, Chopin Noctures - how many of our more refined companions would be able to do that? I allow myself to feel just a little bit smug.
Finally the starter arrives and it is a disappointment. Billed as "roasted prawns with a mayonnaise of avocado, heart of lettuce a l'orange" it turns out to be a solitary large prawn with a couple of slices of orange on some gloopy greeny sauce with a few leaves of little gem lettuce. I'm sorry, but when I go to a posher restaurant than usual, I don't expect to be given mayonnaise in any form. I don't like mayonnaise at the best of times, and anyway I'd always thought it was something you had with chips..... Or in prawn cocktail.
Anyway, we eat and wait for better things. The wine is good, and affordable. When the second course arrives we are relieved to find it beautifully presented and tasty. The green theme continues with a butter watercress sauce, surrounding cod fillet on a bed of slightly crunchy asparagus with unusual red risotto rice that I have never tried before. The only problematic ingredient lurks on the vegetable bed: my friend is allergic to mushrooms and the shapes the cod is nestled on are unmistakeablely mushroom-shaped. He calmly removes them from the pile, and we hope that he will not erupt in spots. This menu is a bit like a lucky dip.
We discover that the main course is enjoyable and the dessert is too: a mini chocolate bomb filled with other layers of chocolate (mousse? white chocolate ice cream?) We are unsure, but no matter: it is delicious.
Then the only difficult part of the evening approaches. We ask for it, and it duly arrives. One of my friends goes in search of the cloakroom and his wallet, apparently watched all the way by the head waiter. We all sort out our 50 euro notes and I squirm slightly - we should be nonchalantly slinging a platinum visa card into the smart folder, but this is 2011 and we are generation Y, "labelled the most educated, affluent, assertive and IT-literate generation in history", "graduates who dare to demand more", or rather, late twenty-somethings still on the bottom rung of the career ladder, burdened with student debt and the knowledge that we will all probably be working until we are 75 to support the comfortable middle-aged in this dining room....
On my way out (only 44 euro the poorer) I visit the toilets one final time and feel a faint tinge of regret as I dispatch one more used individual hand towel into the basket. No doubt this hotel still has the polite notices in its rooms requesting that its guests think of reusing their towels, but not here - not downstairs! I emerge smelling of nice soap and find the others. We wander round said downstairs, steal a last peek at the elegant little bar/library, and discover the mini library in the undersized lift. Then it really is time to go.
For DiningCity Restaurant week Becinbrussels ate:
Grosse crevette rôtie, mayonnaise d'avocat, coeur de sucrine d'orange
Dos de cabillaud, "risotto" riz rouge de Camargue, buerre cresson
Douce délicatesse du patissier
Rue du Commerce 9
+32 (0)2 506 91 11
Brussels restaurant week
Generation Y: Graduates who dare to demand more