The Liège-born politician talks restaurants, books and art in his newfound hometown of Brussels.
I was born and bred in Liège, but I’ve spent the major part of the last 30 years in Brussels. I’ve been working here since 1982. After a while, commuting back-and-forth every day became quite tiring, so in 2010 I bought a house in Brussels, in Uccle / Ukkel to be precise. Most of the time I work in the Egmont Palace, which is nestled between what used to be the Hilton hotel on Boulevard de Waterloo / Waterloolaan and the Sablon / Zavel. The interior is somewhat reminiscent of Versailles. It’s one of Brussels’ most beautiful buildings in my opinion, and I’m happy that we can use it for meetings, dinners, and even for lodging. From there, I’ll often walk over to the Sablon / Zavel neighbourhood together with my wife, and we’ll have dinner either at Senza Nome (Place du Petit Sablon 1 Kleine Zavel), Au Vieux Saint-Martin (Place du Grand Sablon 38 Grote Zavel) or Les Petits Oignons (Rue de la Régence 25 Regentschapsstraat). Their accessibility makes them quite attractive, seeing as I can reach them all day long on foot. After eating we often make our way further downtown, passing by the Rue de Rollebeekstraat and its many art galleries, continuing over to the Grand-Place / Grote Markt down to the Rue Antoine Dansaertstraat, as my wife likes to browse the many boutiques in the area. I try to walk as much as I can, even in my own neighbourhood. It’s a nice alternative to systematically taking your car for every little errand. And I’m lucky to have some nice places not too far from my house, such as Le Pigeon Noir (2 Rue Geleytsbeekstraat) or Il Carpaccio (1033 Chaussée de Waterloosesteenweg). I quite like the atmosphere in Uccle / Ukkel. There’s a large French community, and I’ve noticed that they’ve largely contributed to the success of the local restaurant culture. You’ll see many families here who go out for dinner rather than cook at home, something us Belgians do more of. It’s a different way of living, but it creates a strong commercial activity that even stretches itself through to clothing stores. Take the No Concept branch (1449 Chaussée de Waterloosesteenweg), for example, a boutique-cum-restaurant for those who want to take a quick break while shopping. All these local businesses have benefited tremendously from the arrival of the French community.
My wife and I also try to regularly take in plays and other performances. At first we kind of did the tour by going everywhere, without making a careful selection, but now we go at it a bit more systematically, knowing what we like. My generation is one that watches lots of television, but I still prefer seeing live shows such as dance and puppet theatre, rather than going to the movies. After the shows we’re most likely to head to Al Piccolo Mondo for dinner, simply because it’s a place that stays open late. Then there’s La Taverne du Passage (Galerie de la Reine 30 Koninginnegalerij), in the Royal Galleries, that offers good Belgian food. If I feel like Italian food though, I’ll head over to Al Dente (Rue du Doyenné 87 Dekenijstraat), where you’ll find traditional dishes as well as a trattoria offering homemade pasta. For books I prefer going to Filigranes (Avenue des Arts 39 Kunstlaan ). I always ask the owner Philippe for recommendations and advice, which I follow blindly as he really knows my preferences and tastes. And in terms of art, I really like Xavier Hufkens (Rue Saint-Georges 6 Sint-Jorisstraat). He truly has one of the most beautiful contemporary art galleries in town, with an extraordinary and international clientele. And then there’s of course the Boghossian Foundation and their Villa Empain (67 Avenue Franklin Rooseveltlaan), a flamboyant building with a bizarre architectural blend that has influences ranging from gothic to Egyptian. Lastly, I shouldn’t forget to mention the Magritte Museum (Rue de la Régence 3 Regentschapsstraat), which is representative and essential here in Brussels. I’m always surprised at how cosmopolitan our capital is, with a huge number of international political institutions and many diplomats, yet still small enough to be enjoyed on foot.