The Bistrot du Mail is a bib gourmand in the Ixelles district. Having been turned away once because they were packed, this time we made sure to call ahead and reserve.
I've got to say, the bib gourmand category does not translate as well in Belgium as it did in France: here it seems to represent a wider variety of restaurants, and usually at much more expensive prices than in France, and even Paris.
I knew going in that I was going to get the 15€ lunch menu, no matter what, just because I didn't feel like coughing up what would have been required a la carte (the dinner set menu starts at 38€, and would be much more expensive a la carte). I'm sure the waiter could smell this as soon as I was seated, maybe from my grubby levis or my general American aura, as I was certainly treated to cold and snooty, though efficient, service throughout. Pretty much the type of service you would expect from such a sleek and trendy place.
My boyfriend, however, turned up his nose at the appetizer offered in the set menu ("I don't want just an egg for my entree," he said haughtily) and opted to go a la carte instead. He was wrong to have done so, because then not only do you end up paying at least 3 times the set menu price, for just as good a meal, you also end up getting pretty close to what you would pay for, say, the set menu at Comme Chez Soi. If you're going to pay that much money for lunch, you might as well go somewhere that has stars. And if I knew he was willing to pay that much for lunch I would have rather made reservations at Comme Chez Soi.
Anyway. I won't entangle you in one of our petty spats. Shortly after ordering we were served these amuse-bouches: Unfortunately, this post might be lacking in details simply because the waiter was a mumbler; neither the boyfriend nor I could quite catch what he was saying, and he was quite cold so I didn't feel comfortable asking him to repeat either. Basically, the thing on the right is some sort of gourmet carpaccio-foie gras-layered thing, and the foamy thing on the left involved fish and citrus. I am usually pretty weary of those stylish cappuccino or frothy meat mixes, and I was right to be so this time; we weren't crazy about either of them.
And next comes the appetizer that my boyfriend rejected, the "egg" that is so much more than just an egg: A coddled egg floating in a thick potato soup, with chopped mushrooms hidden at the bottom, and topped with crunchy croutons. This was awesome, and I am not saying that just to spite my boyfriend.
He ordered the Solettes bretonnes en croûte de fruits secs, mayonnaise tiède
de beurre noisette, crème balsamique et mesclun d’herbes (20€)(thank god for online menus ;)): (Fish with a dried fruit crust, served with mayonaise made from hazelnut butter, a balsamic sauce, and salad mix)
For his main dish, he ordered the Filet d’agneau sur tartelette feuilletée d’aubergines et tomates, navarin et mousse de beurre de thym (22€):Lamb served with a "tartelette" of eggplant and tomato, navarin, and a mousse of butter with thyme.
Which was actually not that different from my main dish (in the essential, at least):
Also lamb, with the cutest fried potato babies lining the dish on the right. I'm not sure how I would describe the other accompaniments. It wasn't quite a soup, but it was definitely more than just a sauce, and underneath it all was a bed of mashed potatoes. It was great, even better than the lamb itself in my opinion, which was not uniformly tender. And that glorified potato chip adorning it all? Disgusting.
When my boyfriend's coffee was brought out, we were also served these last sweets:A bite-sized eclair, and a layer of raspberry mousse over caramel cream. Delicious.
I'm not sure I would recommend this for anything besides lunch simply because of the prices, and I don't think its inclusion in the Michelin guide as a bib gourmand (supposedly the "good deal" category) is justified *except* for the lunch menu. Surprisingly, my boyfriend enjoyed it even more than I did (he usually abhors these types of modern bistros), and even commented that he couldn't tell the difference between the cuisine of this place and the one star we had gone to earlier, Chez Marie. Good point. I wonder what makes the difference - in my case, anyways, I prefer Chez Marie simply because of the service. I am American after all, and good customer service is as important as good food in my book. I'll leave the rest for you to decide.
Bistrot du Mail
Rue du Mail, 81
02 539 06 97
Closed Saturday lunch, Sunday, and Monday