BRUSSELS, Belgium – Eating downtown Brussels is not an easy task. The old part of town is in the hands of travellers, and hordes of tourists automatically means tourist traps. This being Brussels, mussels, fries and waffles are devoured by Chinese tour groups and masses of American travellers. So it’s not surprising to anyone who travels to eat that what is being sold in the old part of town is bad and overpriced. The service is detached and automatized and the touts in front of the restaurants make eating in the centre of Brussels a chore.

In this series of articles, Cédric Lizotte visit some of the best restaurants in Europe. From France to Switzerland via the Czech Republic, here are the best places to sample the delights of some of the best chefs on the planet. Follow it with the hashtag #CedricInEurope.

In cases like this one, you often find yourself facing a dilemma: should you take a taxi and leave for less crowded and more welcoming neighbourhoods? And if you have other places to visit, in the old town, after lunch, would that taxi ride – back and forth – become a hassle?

In Brussels, Bia Mara represents an answer to these problems.

Bia Mara, Brussels: Fish and Beers

This restaurant is not about local gastronomy, as it’s British at its core. In fact, this restaurant belongs to two young Irishmen, Barry Wallace and Simon Whiteside. They also own The Hook, in London. And these restaurants all have the same core concepts.

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Bia Mara offers fish & chips, fresh fries and microbrews. It’s more of a snack bar than a true sit-down restaurant; the service is quick and efficient; it’s always loud and crowded. And the food is always excellent.

You chose your breading – tempura or panko – and your fresh fish from a list of about a dozen – salmon, mackerel, monkfish, shellfish, halibut and others, depending on availability. The management makes sure that the fish comes from sustainable sources, as it’s one of its operating principles.

After that, you choose your side dish, which can be on the traditional or inventive. The mushy peas – such an English classic – or the seaweed and radishes salad – much less traditional! – are two great examples of the range of available sides.

The list of sauces is typically Brussels, similar to what you can find at the famous fries stands. At Bia Mara, they obviously serve mayonnaise, but also a garlic-truffle sauce, a “Berber ketchup”, a chipotle sauce…

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Lastly, this being the centre of the abbey beer capital of the world, the craft beers on offer at Bia Mara are hard to find elsewhere in Brussels. During my visit I tried the Zinnebir, a special edition brewed for Bia Mara. Yes, this restaurant has its own beer! Also available, the Jambe-de-Bois, a very well balanced Belgian triple. Both are brewed at the Brasserie de la Senne, in Brussels itself.

The fish is fresh, it’s quickly fried, which helps to keep the fish moist, the breading is perfectly crunchy, the sauces go so well with the fries…

Eating out, downtown Brussels, can be very difficult. But there is Bia Mara!

Bia Mara Brussels
Rue du Marché aux Poulets 41
1000 Brussels
Belgium

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