It’s my second time visiting Brussels now. I first came here just over a year ago, after hearing about an offer from Eurostar which I couldn’t refuse. At that time it turned out Brussels only had only thing going for it – the food. Our so-called five-star hotel was falling to pieces, poverty was extremely high, immigration is too – the city was filthy and if I’m honest I rarely felt safe walking around in it. I found it all rather strange actually, considering Brussels is the epicentre of the European Union. Coming here again however and I’ve realised that Brussels has many different areas to it, both good and bad (much like London) and I was staying in the worst possible part it had to offer.
After giving Brussels some time and exploring its every nook and cranny – I think I may be slowly falling for its rugged charm. If you stay just a few minutes outside of the city (still walkable to the centre) there are some gorgeous hotels which people rarely seem to travel out for, especially considering the public transport network is frequent. One main purpose for this visit was to experience a new opening I’d heard about recently, La Villa in the Sky. Housed at the top of the IT Tower on the outskirts of Brussels centre, this is certainly one of the city’s new destination restaurants. The space was formerly home to foodie extravaganza, The Mercedes Experience. While La Villa in the Sky’s concept and location is new, it’s actually just a location and rebrand of the one Michelin starred Alexandre (now closed). It all caused quite a stir actually as Michelin decided to let them move the star from one location to another. Quite rightly too, because La Villa in the Sky is faultless.
Once you arrive at the imposing IT tower building and you’re whisked away to the top floor in a service lift, which sadly does need a little makeover – to add to the whole La Villa in the Sky experience. The dining room is essentially one large glass cube housing an intimate nine labels, all with view of the open kitchen. Head chef Alexandre Dionisio is already a renowned chef in Brussels, but will no doubt be even more so once people start eating here. After a glass of delicious Billecart-Salmon (house Champagne) we sampled some of the appetisers. A moist olive cake, liquid olive gel on spoons, some mesmerising charcoal puffs topped with smoked eel and shrimp crackers filled with a vibrant crustacean mayonnaise. It was all utterly faultless, with each piece carrying such a distinct flavour that a single bite is all you need.
Menu wise here ta La Villa in the Sky, don’t expect to leave with any change – it is expensive. For lunch the large menu will set you back 120 euros and the short business lunch, 90 euros. On top of that you still have your wine, water, coffee and optional service charge. Thankfully there is a silver lining (sort of), as this will be money very well spent and one of the best meals you’ve ever eaten. We went for the large menu and I can tell you now, there was a lot of food. Créme of dill, scoop of intensely flavoured Russian caviar, icy cold basil granite and potato chips. A small, but perfectly formed plate of food. This dish will certainly get your taste buds going and was a great way to prepare the palate for the astonishing array of food that was yet to come.
Another great aspect of dining here at La Villa in the Sky is that the menus each day are a complete surprise. It’s the first time I’ve eaten wagyu beef, mainly because its pricing prohibits me from enjoying it, but here it was, a thick slab of it served confit and crispy – it turned out to be one of the finest pieces of meat I’d ever eaten. Its texture so soft you could tear it apart with your fingers and its intertwining strands of fat melt away from even the heat of your fingertips, so you could imagine the flavour and texture explosion in the mouth. Paired with its own rich juice, smooth creamy potatoes and a good helping of freshly grated truffles – this is pure gluttony, at its finest.
Like most people, I can’t help but look for reviews before visiting a restaurant and nine times out of ten, Tripadvisor always ranks first in the list. Scanning through the review site I noticed people complaining a lot about the small portion sizes, but I can tell you now – they’re all talking absolute rubbish. There was an abundance of food, so much in fact that you’ll probably even struggle to finish everything. A crémeux of carrots, candied chiconette (no idea), slow cooked Iberian pork confit for 24 hours and a hazelnut foam. To look at this dish was already exciting us, but to taste – well it was just on another level. The pork particularly was outstanding and had the perfect balance of fat to meat ratio, slow cooked just enough to allow that pork to become soft and tender and for the fat to quite simply melt away in the mouth. The carrot sauce was too very well made, had a nice glaze and seasoned perfectly. Dish of the year so far? Definitely.
By this point we were so full up it started to become a bit of a struggle (the good kind). Roast pigeon breast, Anjou salted butter, celeriac, salsify, new potatoes and a garlic confit gravy. I rather liked the playful little celeriac basket, all formed into a nest and topped with a poached egg. The pigeon was beautifully cooked and perfectly seasoned. The jus was the real winner though, incredibly thick, deep in meaty flavour and with a garlic infusion which will leaving you begging for more (plus a pack of mints). It’s food like this which makes you realise why you started writing about it in the first place.
Dessert was perhaps the least spectacular of dishes we’d eaten so far here at La Villa in the Sky, but its well executed simplicity was exactly the sort of thing we were after considering the amount of food we’d just consumed. A crémeux of bergamot, light meringue, fresh mango, mango puree and vanilla ice cream – it was a perfect plate of food. Everything was so fresh, vibrant and full of flavour that you really have to applaud the talent in the kitchens here, creating food with such precision perfect attention to detail.
Forgetting how much food was left (or not) to arrive by this point, I was already close to exploding point. Petit fours and coffee were the final part to this meal and were just as precision perfect as everything else we’d so far ate, featuring a banana tartlet, vanilla marshmallow squares, tuile crisps filled with orange créme and a madeleine so perfect that you’ll probably never have one this good again.
La Villa in the Sky turned out to be an astonishing find in Brussels and is without a doubt one of the best meals I’ve yet to experience. There are so many restaurants in this city and competition can be strife, but head chef Alexandre Dionisio need not to worry. He’s moved location, caused some controversy and put up his prices, but from what I can tell its all been worth it. If the kitchen continues the way it’s going and service becomes a little more polished, then who knows – La Villa in the Sky has serious second star potential and I only wish it every success.