The story so far
I doubt there is anyone in Brussels (or indeed wider Belgium) not familiar with Francois. Yet, despite living in Brussels for many years, we never ate at this Brussels institution. Until recently, when in the mood for fish and seafood, we headed to Francois.
Soon to celebrate 100 years of existence, Francois is a true landmark of Saint Catherine and the Brussels restaurant scene. Owned by the same family (together with Les Armes aux Bruxelles) for over 4 generations, Francois was recently sold on to a Belgian investor – himself a lover of good cuisine and authentic restaurants. Why this piece of history, you ask? Because upon entering Francois you would never notice there was a change behind the scenes since 1922, that’s how smooth all runs.
Francois perfectly reflects what we like to call a ‘don’t wear jeans’ kind of restaurant – there is a touch of the old fashioned all wrapped up in perfectly starched tables clothes (oh love!), the prices slightly on the higher end, the right wine glasses, the same regular customers coming back for years and enough buzz to give the restaurant a flair of ‘I must try this one soon’.
The restaurant was welcoming a big group of professionals at the same time we arrived, but the maitre ‘d (in this position for the past 38 years!) immediately greeted, seated, and served us our menus. Although at first we were a bit wary – after all we are talking high end restaurant on Saint Catherine – we were effortlessly made at ease. Almost at home. Also, the house aperitif arrived immediately.
Francois is known for serving fool proof fish and seafood. Their menu reflects that. Francois shines at two classics. The Plateau Gourmandise – a heaven for seafood lovers – welks, sea snails, different types of oysters, giant shrimps. And the lobster – the Moussaillon, the Capitaine, the Commodore (common’!) – all available for order and pre-order.
A la carte, Francois offers a choice of traditional Belgian mussels and fries which are served either as starters (13.50e to 19.75e) or mains (21.00e to 27.50e). Other starters include pickled or smoked herring, fish terrines, smoked salmon, fish tartares and Belgian grey shrimp, peeled on the spot by hand. For mains, the fish in all its glory is brought to the forefront – turbot, cod, skate, the classic sole, served simple or in Oostende fashion and other seasonal fish (prices range from 25.00e to 59.00e – fish restaurants are always surprisingly expensive in Belgium!) .
Tempted by the seafood platter we opted to go for a mix of starters and mains. But trust me, I am still thinking of the seafood platters I saw coming out of the kitchen … You eat with your eyes as they say, so we just could not resist to order 6 oysters as a pre-starter, followed by the Belgian grey shrimps and the tuna tartare for starters, and the sole and bouillabaisse (fish soup) for mains.
Both starters were great. I must admit when ordering the hand peeled Belgian shrimp salad I thought of the usual tomatoes filled with shrimps so I was a bit surprised to see a ‘deconstructed’ salad on the plate. But the shrimps were absolutely delicious. Probably the best I have eaten so far in Belgium (?!). Actually, for sure the best I had so far. The home-made mayonnaise complemented them perfectly. The tuna tartare, although a bit old fashioned looking, was modern in taste and super fresh and zingy (we detected a hint of wasabi hidden in the sauce, so bonus points for that).
Our mains didn’t disappoint either. The sole was perfectly cooked … such a classic! And the bouillabaisse was more than generous and super tasty reminding us of our southern France holidays. So tasty in fact that my husband refused to share…
Francois does not do ‘modern’, but you almost don’t expect that from such a Brussels institution, do you? It would look out of place of sorts. I bet all our fellow diners were there because of the classic and traditional approach to food, with the utmost respect for the fish, that Francois does so consistently for so (so!) many years. Proof they must be doing it very right …
Service with a smile
Yes, remarkably so. I am constantly amazed at how much control a maitre d’ and staff can have over a full restaurant. Our food was on time, our bread basket refilled, our wine glasses never empty (we drank a gorgeous De Ladoucette Pouilly-Fume) and in between we also managed to have a bit of conversation and find out more about the restaurant. OK, I will admit this much – I love good service and I love feeling special (not just a number) in a restaurant. So for that, merci! Francois.
Someone asked us on instagram what we thought of Francois? Well, for one we have shattered the myth that Francois is inaccessible. Yes, it is a bit on the expensive side and probably not your daily restaurant. But for a special occasion, or indeed simply to eat great fish, Francois is a must. Lunch changes every day and comes at around 30e for starter and main. Not cheap but affordable and trust me you will love the attention and the overall atmosphere as much as the food. Or go full blast for dinner. We only live once.
I would like to extend our thanks to Francois for inviting us to review thier restaurant and organising this amazing meal and to the Francois staff for hosting us and dealing with our endless questions and cameras with grace.
Disclaimer: as always, all opinions written are our own.
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