Area codes: Virginie Devillez’ Brussels

Project space Middlemarch was founded in 2011 by curator Virginie Devillez and artist Jean-Baptiste Bernadet. When Virginie couldn’t find a space for a new contemporary art venue, she decided to use her own living room in her Ixelles apartment as the exhibition space. Spotlighting local, emerging artists and side-projects is key to their vision, and they’re careful to cultivate an open and diverse approach to programming which allows for everything from solo or group exhibitions to book launches, and screenings. Here, we ask Virginie to take us through some of her favourite local haunts in Ixelles’ Chatelain/Brugman area.

Virgnie will be featured in our upcoming Brussels Special as one of 25 local personalities we’ve talked to about the capital city. You can pre-order the issue here.

Join us for the edition’s Brussels release here

One of the newer additions to the neighbourhood is Garage à Manger, which opened two years ago. I like that you can access it via the second hand bookshop Pêle-Mêle next door, where I often go with my little daughter to buy books and then have a coffee afterwards. What’s really nice about Garage à Manger is its child-friendliness. Inside the restaurant there’s a caravan with lots of toys. The menu is very limited, which is a good thing, because they buy everything fresh from the market. The place owes its name to the Mazda shop the building used to host. It’s a perfect example for the changing nature of the neighbourhood, which is becoming more and more trendy these days. I’ve been living in the same building just around the corner from my parents since 1997. My brother is also still in the neighbourhood, we all live within a 500 meter radius from each other.

Middlemarch’s exhibition space.

 When I moved here the weekly market at Place du Chatelain already existed, but it wasn’t that popular and hip yet. Even the Toucan up on Avenue Lepoutre, one of Brussels’ most famous restaurants, wasn’t there yet. I spend a lot of time in this area, there’s almost no need to leave it. One of my favourite places to eat is La Canne en Ville, a family-run restaurant that’s been around for ages. It was already there when everything around here was still more traditional. Now the post office is closed and there’s one restaurant after the other. Before the only place where you could get food at night was Hector Chicken! But even though the area got more popular, a lot of artists still live here and the population is still very mixed. I’m always amazed that young, broke artists still live here, but when you think about it it’s still much cheaper than London or Paris. I really love Maru, a Korean place, which opened two years ago. I’ve seen seven different ventures fail there but this one is definitely here to stay. A nice green spot is Parc Tenbosch. A long time ago it belonged to Hotel Solvay, but then people from the neighbourhood wanted it to be public. They even made a little house there for stray cats. Nowadays it’s very well taken care of.

The entrance to Virginie’s apartment building.

One of the strangest places around here is La Bascule. It really takes you back to the 60s and 70s, the Belgium of my parents and my grandparents. It’s a very Belgian place. You just walk 500 meters and the whole scenery changes completely. Nothing is trendy there. I go there every Monday to shop at the Italian supermarket. They have great coffee and sausages. Monday is my day off, and on these days I also love to take a walk in Bois de la Cambre and stop at La Brasserie George. They have great seafood and dessert and you feel a bit like you’re in Paris. The gallery I work for is also in the neighbourhood. So for lunch I go a lot to La Tsampa, an amazing vegetarian restaurant with a beautiful garden and an attached store. Equally great for lunch is Momo, a Tibetian dumpling place in Rue Defacqz. The best bread around here you get of course at St. Aulaye. My favourite cookies, the ones from Dandoy, I buy at their shop at Place Brugman, the ones with salted caramel. I was so happy when they opened up a store here!

Virginie’s apartment

A place that’s very important for me is Pizzeria Da Claudio. I always go there with the artists that come to Brussels for exhibiting at Middlemarch and I’ve spent some of my best nights there. It’s not trendy or cool, but the pizza is good and the owners are lovely, and they have a karaoke machine! I really love this neighbourhood and I feel like I really live here. It’s nice to have a place that really feels like home. But of course there’s much more to Brussels! My favourite statue for example is the one of Peter Pan, surrounded by animals, in Parc d’Egmont. It’s not very well known and a bit of a hidden treasure. I would go there and shake hands with the little rabbit. I think it was a gift from England. And I am totally in love with Wiels. They put on great exhibitions and I can even go there with my kid and a stroller, which is forbidden in some museums. It’s a great project and one that’s incredibly important for Brussels. Before, the city didn’t really exist on the map of the contemporary art world. A rather underrated place is the Erasmus House in Anderlecht which has a gorgeous garden and works from Hieronymus Bosch. Equally undervalued is the Charlier Museum, which used to be the home of an art collector. It’s a museum in a private house where you can mainly enjoy paintings from the 19th century. I really like the atmosphere there, because it’s different from the standardised museums, which are a bit all the same now.

Garage à Manger
Rue Washington 185
Boulevard Maurice Lemonnier, 55
Chaussée de Waterloo, 566
Toucan / Brasserie
Avenue Louis Lepoutre, 1 or 17-19
La canne en ville
Rue de la Réforme, 22
Chaussée de Waterloo, 510 
Brasseries Georges
Avenue WInston Churchill, 259 
La Tsampa
Rue de Livourne, 109
Rue Defacqz, 27
Le Saint Aulaye
Rue Américaine, 130
Maison Dandoy
Place Georges Brugmann, 9
Da Claudio
Chaussée de Waterloo, 436
Le Wiels
Avenue Van Volxem, 354
Maison d’erasme
Rue du Chapitre, 31
Musée Charlier
Avenue des Arts, 16