Belgian Food – Chez Léon – Brussels, Belgium
There’s something very special about this small nation of 10 million people that makes it world capital of Europe, beer, chocolates and many other things. During the 1958 World Expo in Brussels, Belgium became the true capital of Moules et Frites or mussels and chips, with the Chez Léon, the House of Leon being king of this gastronomic offering.
Chez Léon has been a family business since 1893 when Leon Vanlancker first opened Friture Léon. Domestic success spurred the family onto international expansion and in July 1989 they opened the first Leon restaurant in Paris, on the Place de la Republique. More than 40 restaurants were opened in France over a 15-year period culminating with the opening in 1992 of Léon de Bruxelles on the Champs Elysées.
It was at the Champs Elysées restaurant that I was first introduced to Moules et Frites by my French friends in 1993, but I didn’t know then what a popular restaurant Chez Léon was. As we love moules et frites, Tony and I have made it our tradition to have at least one meal at Léon de Bruxelles each time we’re in Paris.
Chez Léon in Brussels offers 14 different mussel specialities as well as 120 traditional Belgian dishes, e.g. rabbit stewed in kriek (cherry) beer and stoemp (bubble and squeak) … I’ll stick to my mussels, thank you!
Note that when dining at Léon’s restaurants internationally, adaptations have been made to the ingredients to suit local tastes and to ensure its long-term success. For example, the large-sized Belgian mussels gave way to smaller ones resembling the Bouchot mussel which are more familiar to the French and the Belgian large chips with a definitive potato taste had to make way to pommes allumettes.
Leon de Bruxelles’ training school in France not only teaches it’s staff how to cook Belgian dishes, but its curriculum also includes a course of Brussels humour. Leon obviously believes that the positive side of this humour based on the Belgian character will transcend into good quality cuisine and service.
Well I must say that apart from loving their food, this seems like a great Belgian company.