40 years old. That’s quite something, isn’t it?! To be precise, it’s the age of a lovely Portuguese restaurant in St Gilles, Brussels, called Coimbra.
Coimbra is a beautiful city in the middle of Portugal, located close to the Atlantic Ocean. And what’s in the ocean? Right, fish. From grilled calamari or gilthead, over Bacalhau (a very popular fish in Portugal) to Caldeirada, a traditional fish stew, you’ll find almost any kind of seafood on their menu. Fish fish fish. Not the biggest fan of fish? That’s not a problem, they also have beef, lamb and pork. All dishes are cooked there, made from fresh and good ingredients.
Fancy a starter? Try their gambas, croquettes or some smoked salmon. Don’t forget to have a glass of Vinho Verde with it, a light Portuguese wine from the North of the country or any other red or white wine that the owner happily recommends to you.
More about my personal experience at this traditional Portuguese institution here in Brussels: We entered into a place that immediately felt home. Not my home, but someone’s home, where the grandma (or grandpa, to be gender correct) is standing in the kitchen, preparing her/his secret recipes. A nice smell of fried onions and fish reached my nose and even though I wasn’t very hungry when arriving here (had quite big lunch before!), my appetite now rose to a peak.
The very open and warm waiters greeted my food-companion for this evening, Pauline, and me and lead us to a wooden table covered with a yellow table cloth. Sitting there we were able to look at all the nice, little details that were hanging on the walls: letters, sketches, colorful plates, family photos. Of course the blue and white tiles that Portugal is known for weren’t missing, decorating the entire lower part of the walls in the restaurant. It’s a rather a place where you’re separated from the outside sun, but it’s also the buzzing sounds of Brussels that disappear. Lit by lamps that probably, too, are quite vintage, the place is cozy and authentic; far, far away from the new wave hipster-ish restaurants that are popping up in Brussels (although I do like many of them a lot, too). At Coimbra time has stopped, but in a very pleasant way.
Time to choose something from the menu. We started with an aperitif and a mix of starters, including bacalhau corquettes, shrimp croquettes, fried calamari, a green and a bean salad. We then had to decide on two mains, not an easy choice, but we decided to share a meat and a fish dish, to try a bit of everything. One was Rojões, a dish that consists of small, fried and nicely spiced pork pieces, mussels and potatoes. I really liked this one, because of the nice and perfect spiciness and the bits of cilantro in it. The pork was tender and it really tasted home cooked and freshly prepared. The other one was Caldeirada, the traditional Portuguese fish stew, with different kinds of fish, calamari, mussels, potatoes and other vegetables. This one was also very delicious, soft and tasteful fish, and also with just the right amount of spices. All this was accompanied by a red wine from the North, Douro, fitting very well with our dishes. To finish this great home-cooked dinner, we shared a very fluffy, not too sweet and very light piece of mousse I’d say, made from sugar, vanilla, eggs and topped with some kind of an English cream.
My conclusion? This place very rightly exists for 40 years already. It’s worth more than one visit, suitable for any kind of occasion that you want to spend and celebrate at a relaxed pace and among some truly friendly, nice and welcoming people.
Prices: 25-40€ per person per dinner with drinks
Good to know: Website: restaurant-coimbra.be; Avenue Jean Volders 54, 1060 Saint-Gilles