Young Thais are drawn by the big city lifestyle
This is a city that has hundreds of beers and takes its food seriously. Mussels are a must – the season runs from around September to April. Also, try the snails, frites and waffles from the many street stalls. The multicultural population means there’s a great range of international cuisines to try, too.
Budget: The best value lunch or dinner in central Brussels is to be had at Tunisian owned Arcadi. Though the café’s tiny interior means it can be a squash, the pasta dishes and quiches, from €7.50, make it worth it. Try to leave room for pudding – the lemon meringue is a favourite, €4.50. (00 322 511 33 43)
Located alongside the opera house, Intermezzo specialises in pasta and bruschetta served by friendly Italians. Choose an individual table or the large communal table in the centre of the room and order the pasta dragoncello (tomato and tarragon), €10. (00 322 218 0311)
Blowout: Chez Vincent, in the medieval centre, is an old-style Belgian restaurant. In the ornate tiled dining room, order excellent moules marinière, €22.50, or steaks that are flambéed in front of you, from €23.
Budget: Comocomo serves Basque tapas pinxtos, such as Argentine beef brochette or sesame-encrusted frogs legs, from €9.50 for three pinxtos. On the first Tuesday of every month, holds a Spanish wine tasting evening with seven wines and tapas for €35.
Mushroom fans will love Café des Spores where the chef takes mushrooms to places you’d never imagined, such as coddled egg with truffle or a crème brûlée of foie gras and ceps, €12. It is very small, so booking is advised. It also does cookery courses.
Blowout: If you’re after a memorable dinner, head straight to La Manufacture. The food is Belgian fusion with dishes such as tempura of Belgian cheeses, and pork with Belgian cherry beer and Szechuan pepper, €21.50.
Budget: Hidden down an alley is A la Bécasse, where you can enjoy a traditional Brussels night out, with jugs of local beer, known as lambic doux, brought to you by waiters in white aprons, €4.50 per person. Careful though – it’s powerful stuff. There are snacks, from cheese with celery salt to open sandwiches.
The St Gery area is the place for a drink, with a selection of bars serving beers and cocktails, some with DJs. Go to the back of the square to find Gecko, which is slightly quieter than some, and enjoy a beer or a Margarita.
Blowout: For a decadent night out, it has to be Belga Queen. Start with pre-dinner drinks in the ground floor champagne bar, from €9 a glass, or finish the night with a brandy, from €6, in the cigar bar. Look out for the mural of famous Belgians.
Budget: The good value Hotel Ibis Sainte Catherine is perfectly placed for Sainte Catherine’s markets and many fish restaurants. Doubles from €69.
Contemporary Hotel Bloom is on the edge of the Schaerbeek district, full of Turkish and Moroccan supermarkets. Visit the bazaar-like rue de Brabant – just the place to pick up a couscousière (a large covered pot). The area is also home to one of Brussels’ most popular Christmas markets. Doubles from €129.
Blowout: Classic Hotel Manos Stephanie serves a great breakfast and is in the stylish Ixelles area with many good restaurants right on the doorstep. Also minutes from Bois de la Cambre park. Doubles from €150.
Budget: The Marché du Midi is held every Sunday around Midi station – find fruit, plants, cheeses, olives, delicatessens and more. The highlight is a Moroccan breakfast pancake with honey and a glass of mint tea, for less than €5, from the stall by the railway bridge.
The best frites come from Maison Antoine, a kiosk on the Place Jourdan. Eat them in one of the local bars while trying a few of the hundreds of Belgian beers. Each beer has its own glass – Kwak comes in a round-bottomed glass with a stand, purportedly as it was drunk by coachmen who attached it to the side of their coaches.
Blowout: Your family and friends will expect you to return with chocolates. Forget the shops in the centre of town and head to Pierre Marcolini in the Sablon for the chocolate equivalent of the finest claret, boxes from €40.