It is rather beautiful, you see. So beautiful I want to sit in here of an afternoon all on my own, cradling my beverage and looking dreamily at the dorures. And then a last walk through past turquoise walls, mahogany, regimented tables, black-white tiled bathroom and cash register, out of my Victorian gentleman's club. But the chess players and their smoky haze are gone, and with all those gleaming lights, knowledgeable - but commercially minded - waiters, dark wood and gilding it's hard to imagine them coming back. Which is a shame, because that was supposed to be what Le Greenwich was all about.
Even though the liveried waiters seem to presume that you will eat here of an evening, and that scruffy artists are no longer exactly welcomed, Le Greenwich is now a striking place to linger over a beer. The bar has been scrubbed, preened and beautified - 5 million euros of regional funding and the owner's investment have been lavished on it, after all. No wonder they want you to eat. The food prices are a little higher than you might expect for a Brussels brasserie. As my friend observed; "il faut rembourser les dorures!"
I say thank goodness someone stepped in to save Le Greenwich! For too long this dark, dingy, sad bar had traded on a reputation long since lost in its years of damp and grime. However, despite the efforts to replace chess players with hungry tourists, I would say savour the surroundings over a beer - have one, have two, have seven - but leave the food alone for the moment. And perhaps, eventually, if we all insist in turning up with chess boards the management will relent and let us play!
Probably the only thing you could eat here before were some peanuts as you hunched over your chess game, oblivious to all the hidden beauty. In my imagination I want to see the overgrown, unwashed beer drinkers of yesteryear come back in; I want to see Magritte's face and know what he makes of it. But instead all the curious characters we're likely to see are tourists: and the owner has wisely chosen a selection of Belgian meals to pull them in: including such staples as lapin à la kriek, boulettes, carbonnades and, I think, eels.
We have a burger and boulettes (meatballs). I decide that trying a Belgian cuisine staple is a good way to test culinary pretensions.
The first few mouthfuls taste fine. But then, an alarming discovery. I think I spy foie gras on my friend's burger. "No, no, it cannot be!" Says my friend. "It's like low quality pâté." This cannot be foie gras.
It is foie gras; the waiter confirms it. In any case, foie gras just adds pretension to a burger that isn't actually very good. "I don't think it's a good idea to add foie gras to a burger", my friend says. In any case, we judge the burger not worth the 16 euros we paid for it. You can have cheaper and better elsewhere on my blog, but then there is the question of the surroundings - and those dorures.
I start the boulettes and several mouthfuls in we have another problem: a salty problem. True, I don't add salt to anything much, but this meal is providing my weekly allowance of salt in one overloaded sitting. I can feel it coating my lips. Midway through, the dish has to be abandoned. I have a headache and am ravaged by thirst. The chips are thin, salty and moreish; Morgan Spurlock tormentors better at home in a fast food restaurant. Perhaps the chef just slipped with the salt shaker? I'm left wondering how in a land of such of renowned frites, we're left eating fries of such low quality.
Meanwhile, the bread is judged to be pretty good.
Bread conversation in Le Greenwich, sometime in May 2012
Lui: "Pour savoir si un pain est bon il y a deux critères. La croûte doit être épaise et croustillante, et la mie de pain, elle doit avoir des gros trous."
(Pregnant pause, while Becinbrussels absorbs this nugget, wisely deciding against questioning this juicy piece of received French wisdom)
..."Mais pas partout, quoi"
Moi: hein? Et ce pain-ci?
And so, the verdict on this bread: Not bad at all. It has one of the two criteria: the holes. But the croûte (crust) is molle (soft)....
More about my bread tasting another time.
With such an effort made on the surroundings, the food has a bit of catching up to do.
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