Home Traveling guide A local guide to Brussels, the laid-back Belgian capital with flavors of mussels and fries | Brussels public holidays

A local guide to Brussels, the laid-back Belgian capital with flavors of mussels and fries | Brussels public holidays

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Illustration: Hennie Haworth/The Guardian

Food

There is delicious Congolese cuisine to be enjoyed in Brussels – a legacy of Belgium’s colonial history. To have a lot of choice, I would go to Matongé, a lively and very multicultural district close to the city center. I have two favorite restaurants there. Chez Malou Bomboka, at 104 Chausée de Wavre is very popular, but the service is relaxed. Malou, who runs it, arrived in Belgium with nothing 40 years ago and now owns several restaurants in Brussels. Its chicken wings are popular, but you shouldn’t miss the goat, which is street food in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I also appreciate that of Malou laid, a cassava leaf stew. The other good Congolese restaurant in Matongé is Inzia: it has a buffet for €20, with grilled goat cheese, beans, plantains and chicken stew with peanuts. In Ganshoren, the Brussels district where I was mayor until last month, there are gourmet restaurants like the San Daniele and the Bruneau by Maxime Maziers, but also good addresses for small budgets. Brewery The Spoon is good for molds.

Inspiration

Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Photography: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

When a footballer wins a game in England he usually runs to celebrate with his supporters, but when my son Vincent captained Manchester City to win the League Cup final in 2016 he stopped and is returned to try to console the Liverpool players. For this reason, a Belgian organization called Panathlon Wallonie-Bruxelles awarded Vincent one of its fair play awards (he couldn’t make it to the ceremony, so I accepted it for him). We have erected a fair play monument at a crossroads in Ganshoren near the football and basketball pitches and tennis courts where Kim Clijsters won her first trophy at the age of 15. The statue depicts four hands tied together.

Pierre Kompany
Pierre Kompany. Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

There are three main attractions in Brussels: the Grand-Place, the Atomium, which was built for the Universal Exhibition in Brussels in 1958, and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in my neighborhood, Ganshoren. It is one of the largest churches in the world. The Mannekin Pis, the statue of a little boy in the center of Brussels, was recently dressed in the red and gold colors of Ganshoren, so I have to put a word for that too.

I also like Jette, a green district a little further north, ideal for strolling. Near the train station is a good-value meze and rib restaurant called Les P’tits Os, with bare brick walls, wooden floors, and chalkboard menus.

Green spaces

One of the most beautiful woods in Brussels, the Bois du Laerbeek, is located between Ganshoren and Jette. There is a protected natural area, a pond and a river. My children were in the scouts, and every Sunday afternoon, their mother and I would drop them off and then go for a walk in the Bois du Laerbeek, and have a drink in her Norman-style chalet, which is now a restaurant. It’s a very peaceful place, with lots of birds to enjoy.

Night life

I’m not the best person to ask about drinking, as I stick to Coca-Cola or sparkling water. But two good addresses for an evening in Ganshoren are the Grand Duc, a stone’s throw from the Basilica, and the Brochette du Chalet, just around the corner. Jacques Brel, Belgian singer and actor, played on the first floor of La Brochette. There is a very 1950s atmosphere. The Moeder Lambic Original in Saint Gilles, south of the city center, is renowned for its Belgian beers. And for a perfect plate of Belgian friestry Maison Antoine on Place Jourdan, near the European Quarter.

To stay

There is only one hotel in Ganshoren, the Frederiksborg (doubles from €75 per room only), which is next to the Basilica. The Bois du Laerbeek is a few steps away. When I became mayor, I said I would make the area around the Basilica a tourist attraction, and we are well on our way to achieving that.

Born in the ground floor when it was still under Belgian control, Pierre Kompany, 74 years oldhas been elected first black mayor of Belgium in 2018. His son is the elder Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany