Catherine Feore visits a bistro in the heart of the city
In the protected historic Saint Jacques district, more known for its bars than its restaurants, you will find the Jardin des Olives (rue du Marché au Charbon 100). Diagonally opposite the Notre-Dame de Bon Secours Church, it is a surprising find, just two minutes from Grand Place.
The restaurant takes its name from rue du Jardin des Olives, a very old Brussels street which can be found in the city’s annals as early as 1358. It owes its name to a pious man who in the Middle Ages had reconstituted the Garden of Olives along the first wall of Brussels.
In 2018, Nancy Delsanne and Grégory Huon fell under the spell of this unique neighbourhood. They created a wine bar and a delicatessen. Then in May 2021, when most were reeling from the impact of the pandemic, they took on a second address, to create this small, creative bistro.
The wine bar, which opens only on Friday and Saturday evenings, offers an interesting wine list mainly focused on organic and natural wines, including a good Belgian selection. Also on the menu, are a selection of Brussels craft beers, without forgetting a few cocktails including a Belgian Negroni.
The Jardin des Olives menu is very eclectic. The kitchen is led by British chef Matthew Woollard, who has many years of experience, including at the famous Reform Club, a private members club at the heart of the British establishment. When he first came to Brussels he saw a gap between good traditional brasserie restaurants and Michelin starred restaurants. Woollard is passionate about food, all kinds of food. He tells me that he’s kept the menu short (4 starters/4 mains/2 desserts). The kitchen is pretty small and having a concise menu is a way to maintain quality. However, there’s an incredible choice that touches on many different culinary traditions. The menu also changes on a regular basis, Woollard is restless and you feel his overflowing creativity demands this.
I ask Woollard what’s in store for the next menu; without a note in sight he rhymes off what he’s planning. His excitement is contagious, he says there will be muscles in a Champagne sauce, with a potato mouse, seaweed crisps and warm brioche; confit belly of lamb served with a sweet and sour apricot sauce, fermented radish and a bouquet garnet of herbs in a pancake; a scotch egg and black pudding with kohlrabi remoulade; and a Japanese-style miso glazed aubergine with cucumber, chilli, tofu and cashew nut. That’s just the starters, the mains and desserts are similarly tantalizing, for example, there’s a filet of trout cooked in a Sandefjord sauce (lemon, fish eggs and dill) served with crushed new potatoes, fennel and crevettes grises for a main.
Jardin des Olives is a welcome – and much needed – addition to the sometimes rather jaded dining options in the centre of Brussels.