This week IÕm in Brussels learning how to do fiddly things with miniscule pieces of diced tuna and a variety of tian rings at the cookery school run by Yves Mattagne, chef at the 2 starred Sea Grill at the Radisson SAS. At least that was the plan. In fact, M. Mattagne, who has the raffish good looks of a Bollywood film star, was persuaded to do most of my fiddling for me - possibly by Š oops, silly me - the number of times I dropped my paring knife. Funny how all that time spent at numerous similar establishments learning how debone quail and carve Mount Rushmore out of a single radish just flew out of my head. CanÕt understand it, really. It might have been the fact that the chef was about the only man over thirty and five foot five that I saw in three days.
I tried to arrange a suitable companion ahead of time - even going as far as to elicit names from the MisterÕs EU business contacts (all of whom suddenly disappeared, mainly, I suspect, because they are called Mimi and Fifi) but could only come up with a 28 year old Eurocrat who looked young for his age. I felt like Graham GreeneÕs crusty old aunt transformed into a cooing Hattie Jacques at the sight of a handsome face. Too, too undignified, really. However, I was there to eat, not flirt while bemoaning the dearth of older men to whom I can look up to in heels, and thankfully, Brussels, has a lot to offer on the food front. ItÕs not all moules, frites, cherry flavoured beer and peeing mannequins. ThereÕs a whole range of places to visit starting from the trendy young, hip, happening Belga Queen, which sounds like a cross channel ferry but is, in fact, the/italics/ hot destination. ItÕs a fantastic, throbbing restaurant and bar in the colonnaded hall of what used to be a bank, a few, staggered steps from the Grand Place, and whose biggest draw, apart from the hype, is the transparent, glass in the unisex loos. The doors do turn opaque when you lock them, though on our visit one cubicle was, most apparently, faulty. Big brother, Belgian style. However, the food (@40E a head) is patchy, so carrying with my trusty young Eurocrat on one arm, I went to Bonsoir Clara. This is an older, still trendy restaurant, with harlequin coloured walls in one room and a startling wall of backlit, stained glass in the other - like Mondrian meets Tiffany - full of pretty, professional twenty/thirty-somethings being briskly served by waiters too busy to be inept.
From the four choices of hot and cold starters featuring a huge plate of crostini, cannelloni of crab and ricotta, and the Belgian staple, home-made shrimp croquettes, I had foie gras terrine. It was all of those knee jerk adjectives like pale, rich and creamy, while offset nicely with a tangy onion and vanilla chutney. The Eurocrat had a thin tart of aubergines, smoked mozzarella and yellow courgettes that was a simple arrangement of vegetables on a disc of pastry. To follow I had OstendÕs Ōfinest soles slightly pannedÓ- delicate, buttery, miniature sole fillets, with a schizophrenic serving of chunky root vegetables. My companion had robust roast guinea fowl with carrots and sweet potatoes, while his dessert, a classic crepe smothered with toffee sauce and other sticky, sweet unguents was infinitely nicer than my snowball of congealed morel cherries encased in a gooey meringue which had the consistency of wallpaper paste. Not the mealÕs finest moment, but otherwise a convivial evening.
Back at M. MontagneÕs much more formal Sea Grill, we feasted on tartare of tuna with caviar, Dublin Bay Prawns with Pan-fried Goose Liver, sea bass in a sea salt crust, and other complicated morsels similar to the dishes I managed to flirt my way out of making in the test kitchen. However, at 75 euros per person, it is definitely for the show off, professional diner who has been training in Michelin starred dining rooms for at least two months. The hotel choccie on your pillow really isnÕt adequate preparation.
Before we even reached pudding I had to wave the white napkin of defeat, as it seems I must now do at the end of this column. Eating out is a dream job and writing about it has been a joy but the nicest part of all has been hearing from so many of my readers. I will miss you all, especially the one who thinks I am the most desirable woman in London, despite (or perhaps because of) never having seen me. Let's hope he's right -though for the record Š the Glamourpussin the picture is actually the illustratorÕs girlfriend! I keep my other head in my handbag.