maître d’ - Belga Queen, Brussels
Written by Nick Hall
As an architect, interior designer, and chef, Antoine Pinto is the undisputed master of his trade. He combines his talents to create a compelling dining experience, one which is both uniquely Pinto and uniquely Belgian.
Belga Queen represents Pinto’s flagship work of art and it isn’t hard to see why. It is so much more than just a brasserie. Formerly the city’s Hôtel de la Poste and later the Credit du Nord bank, this iconic, grandiose building is a fitting venue, where informal dining and traditional Belgian cuisine come together as an amalgamation of everything its creator is passionate about.
The impressive Oyster Bar sets the scene as you first enter Belga Queen and a small ‘Bar Bieres’ offers guests an aperitif of Belgium’s finest quality draughts. Both bars line the atrium that leads to the main dining hall, in which the open kitchen, at the far end of the building, forms the masterpiece of Pinto’s work.
The menu at Belga Queen offers a gastronomic tour of a country that is famed for its fine exports. The degustation begins with a tantalising list of entrees, a vast fish menu including traditional plates such as Eel au vert and Royal Cod, which comes accompanied by a typically Belgian Leek Stoemp, as well many meat classics such as Coucou de Malines and Filet American, a raw beef delicacy, also known as Steak Tartare.
A central staircase leads diners down through a wrought-iron door into the former bank’s vault, which is now the setting for an exclusive cigar lounge simply referred to as ‘The Club’. It has been designed by Pinto to offer guests an intimate setting surrounded by a steel wall of private safes, with dim lighting in colours that recreate an ambience nostalgic of the Belgian Congo. The lounge offers an impressive selection of drinks and some of the finest Grand Cru Havana cigars.
For Pinto, art is in the detail. Nothing in his work is overlooked, from the locally sourced ingredients on his menu and the designs on the restaurant’s crockery, to the coats of arms engraved in the ceilings, not to mention the centrepiece, ‘The Queen’s Horse’, a silver sculpture celebrating ‘Belgians of the World’.