City wanderings - and a pilgrimage to some of the best eating and drinking spots in Brussels. Or maybe not eating or drinking - ah, oh well.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


I'd heard talk of a mini anglo-saxon invasion in Brussels, a new sweet and calorific arrival to jostle for my affections with those prized tart lemon tarts from Le Pain Quotidien.  Last Saturday I could contain myself no longer and headed to Châtelain after a short bike ride in the sunshine in the Bois de la Cambre to try and work up an appetite.

I turn up at Lilicup, a little café/bakery specialising in beautifully presented cupcakes, in a well-heeled part of Brussels.  I am dismayed to discover, looking in the window, that my cycle helmet has made the front of my hair stick up in a quiff, which I vainly try to dampen down as I enter this pristine establishment.

Yet again I have a decision to make.   I ignore all other options (cheesecake, cookies, muffins, scones) and feast my eyes on the colourful cupcakes on cakestands, including flavours such as dulce de leche, rose and vanilla, carrot cake and chocolate.  I have tried the rose and vanilla before at Café de la Presse and so select lavender and apricot.  Our order is taken efficiently and the two of us slink away to await service.  I now have time to take in my surroundings.  The first thing I notice is that Lilicup's colour scheme is definitely pinkish.   My cycle helmet is positioned on a spotty pink tablecloth.  Garlands of pink paper cases hang in the window above more (real) display cupcakes, and jars of cake decorations sit on shelves like buttons in a haberdashery shop.  The staff are all well groomed and wearing aprons to complete the "made on the premises" look; and yes, there is flour on the floor.  The atmosphere is more New York Minimalist than Ye Olde Country tearoom.  Shame about that: I was hoping for something considerably chintzier, even kitsch.  I like the idea of going out for afternoon tea and cake, but I prefer to do that in some old-fashioned flowery café; where old ladies spend their afternoons chatting away, and food and drink is served in bone china.  In the style of the American idea of an old English tearoom, that only seems to exist now in touristy places or outside of towns.

That would have been different at least, but unfortunately Lilicup the place seems rather sterile and not somewhere you feel you can linger with your grandma.  I really want to like it, but I just can't.

The cakes arrive to interrupt my reverie.  Both are light textured, moist, delicious!  Mine even has a piece of apricot inside.  The hot chocolate seems to have a dollop of crème fraîche in it, and is accompanied by another tasty little morsel of cake.  I shrug and dispatch everything quickly: I didn't come here to skimp on calories.  Before paying the bill I head to the toilet, resisting the urge to pinch one of the cakes in the window; and am disconcerted by the notice inside warning customers that it (the toilet) is under surveillance.  By this time I feel ready to leave so we pay the bill and are soon out.  The 13 euros we paid for two cupcakes and two hot chocolates feels a little steep.

We wonder what it was that failed to endear the place to us.  My friend hits the nail on the head: it's too BoBo (bourgeois-bohème)!  I think he's right, it is a bit too Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a bit too Richmond or Châtelain for me.  The cakes are lovely, but I suggest you skip eating in and sample them in Café de la Presse instead, which has a good variety of cakes, including some from Lilicup.  You could also order cupcakes in advance online or buy them at the more attractive takeaway prices.

On the way back we wander through Parc Tenbosch, which must be one of Brussels' smallest but most attractive parks.  Certainly it is the only park I know of that smells reassuringly of blossom and flowers rather than slowly decomposing dog turd.  Local residents are sitting in deckchairs and everyone is enjoying the first decent spring weather of the year.  Sadly this is is all rudely interrupted by the arrival of one of those officious park guardians, blowing on his whistle and shepherding us all out of the park, as if we were a flock of sheep.  My irritation at this idiotic little man with his whistle only grows when he passes us to lock the closest exit and then insists that we traipse down to the bottom exit, me carrying my bike down stairs and muttering under my breath at just how small-minded people can be.

65 rue du Page
1050 Bruxelles
+32 (0) 2 538 02 68

Open Tuesday to Saturday 10:00 - 18:00

Are you a BOurgeois BOHemian?

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