Chic but worth it lunch: Durbuy, Belgium’s Brasserie Fred [classic article]

Chic places to have lunch can often be more about the socializing than the lunch. There are places in NYC and Baltimore, for example, where people are ordering expensive cocktails for lunch, but the ladies who lunch aren’t actually eating. Some places claim excellence in things nobody really eats for lunch, like, “They’re famous for their Steak Bearnaise,” or “They’re known for their Lobster Thermidor,” . . . like, come on. Really?

Many of these places also feel like they’re trying too damned hard to be exclusive. You arrive at 11:30 and the hostess puts her nose in the air. “Do you have reservations?” she asks in a monotone, looking away.

It’s the rare place in the world that’s definitely the place to be seen, but it’s fun, relaxed and has food in portions that are appetizing, not deadening. Brasserie Fred, in Durbuy (considered the smallest town in the world), Belgium — the heart of the Ardennes — is one of those places. There are some shops, etc. in the neighborhood that feel more uptight, but this brasserie is popular and cool. There was even a sleepy dog relaxing on the floor. I was happy to be hosted to experience it!

There are a bank of stools in the airy restaurant decorated with modern art and horsehair lampshades. They serve Corne beer in horned shaped glasses, with a holder if you don’t want to down it in one swig. I had a white wine.

They have special multi-plate lunch deals or you can order a la carte.

I tried regional Gillardeau oysters, which had a meatier, more savory/fish flavor than oysters you may be used to in the US.

Then, a delightful main course for me was the asparagus vichyssoise with foie gras, oxtail bits and salmon. The good stuff was in a deep dish while the cold asparagus vichyssoise was poured over. The foie gras had a hint of salt and there were gelee bits in the garnish. This was an elegant, light course.

For dessert, I had a mix of red berries — including a sort of lingonberry — with a sweet tuille. This was refreshing, but knowing myself (and they always say to know oneself), I covered my blouse with my napkin.

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