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.

Friday, May 4, 2012


Madagasikara is a resturant squeezed down the end of the rue de Flandre.  On the way there we pass some amusingly-named little side streets and yet more enticing bars.  Now here's another area of town I need to research: the list of beers and bars papering one of the walls in my kitchen is growing, teasing me.  I need help.  I'm fed up with being rained on, too.  And of days withering at a desk, while something is busy dying inside me.  On the plant on my desk there is a single green shoot.  Grow little shoot, grow! 

I'm not the only one floundering at the moment: my housemates and I decide none of us feel like cooking.  Usually we all cook for ourselves rather than work together on some big communal meal.  The oven is temperamental and when finally you manage to light the gas at the bottom, you jump back startled, your fingers smelling of singed pork and missing a few strands of downy hair.  One housemate always cooks plentifully and the leftovers stake out the fridge for quite a while until one of us succumbs to this particular endurance contest; the other shares my boundless love for mashed potato and makes a delicious OREO cake (I hope she's reading this, we haven't had one for a while).  And me, well I like baking, and I cook a lot of mince.  When the supermarket runs out I even cook Américain mince, but don't tell any Belgians I said that.

"Don't worry", says the lady in Madagasikara, after I've made my meal choice.  "Don't let it put you off.  Your fish dish is cooked with these special leaves.  They produce a special effect in your mouth.  It's not unpleasant; just kind of.... ticklish.  It's OK", she continues, as a flicker of pained worry crosses my face, to be replaced by the beginnings of a sly grin.  I can hardly not try ticklish leaves now, can I?  My housemates opt for the safer options of chicken curry and gambas, but I take the meal complete with its own disclaimer.
 I can hardly complain, it's my own fault.  We all have some cold pickled vegetables on our plate, which we like.  My friends are busy enjoying their mild coconut curry and rum-soaked gambas.  But at the first mouthful of the lime and leaf infused fish stew my tongue recoils in horror.  The dish is overpowering, smoky brininess seeping into every morsel.  The lime doesn't stand a chance.  Then I place the fish in my mouth and more troublingly, I realise I have several bones in there somewhere, my cheeks contorting as I try to locate them.  For a moment everything comes into perspective - tedious days in the office, contrary weather, absent friends and unexplained bad temper - and I hope that my housemates remember the Heimlich maneouvre.  I've never choked on food and didn't expect to have to pick through sauce and a little clutch of bones.  I'd rather hoped that the restaurant would do that for me.  Still I was warned, and the cook and his wife are genuine and friendly.  I just ordered the wrong thing.

The others like their food, but nobody is overflowing with praise.  It's possibly because the food is slightly overpriced for the not over-generous quantity you get: we pay 75 euros for a main course and three soft drinks.  You can have tajines and tapas for less.  I'm also a little disappointed by my non- alcoholic cocktail, which promises much with its list of ingredients, but turns out to taste a little like normal juice, and is gone in 6 mouthfuls...

Particularly when the team behind a restaurant hasn't done anything to deserve my ire, I don't like to criticise.  The decor, music and company has all been carefully considered to give me an enjoyable evening.  I like the blackboard map of the island as you come in, the husband and wife team are smiling, and I've had my first experience of a country I have never visited, eating something authentic and different.  I've spent the 1 May holiday in the sun, walking in the fresh air in a place near Brussels which not many people seemed aware of: they were at the Laeken greenhouses instead.  So maybe it was just the fish. My friends liked their food.  You know I'm not fond of salty food, and this tastes like Lapsang Souschong.  I'm Becinbrussels, I'm a wanderer.  And the most important thing I learnt at university: to keep exploring, keep learning, there is no right answer.  Hey readers, you don't have to listen to me.

10 rue de Flandre
1000 Brussels
Tel: 04 73 44 40 74

Closed Sunday lunch and Wednesday

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