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Something Fisy in O Bifanas

Something Fishy By Daphne Wayne-Bough

Gonzo claimed it was the best Portuguese restaurant in Brussels, so one rainy night after a few Kwaks with Scouse Doris and new paramour Rupert Posh-Geordie, we staggered up Rue de l’Ecuyer and swung a right into the Ilot Sacré, as that restaurant-jammed part of the old town is known.

O Bifanas, on Rue des Dominicains, is tiny but has been recently refurbished – Roopers remembered it as a tiny oilcloth-tabled cantina in the old days. Sebastiao Garcia, the boss, has the most fabulous Hercule Poirot style moustache...

- sadly I didn’t have my camera with me or I would have taken a picture of me fondling it.

The menu encompasses meat and fish dishes and, as we were sat by the tropical fishtank, we opted for the latter. The fish in the tank eyed us with disdain, if not downright hatred.

I know little of Portuguese food, but I do know that Bacalao, or salt cod, is very, well, salty. As it was a bit late, we skipped the starter and ordered main courses directly. I opted for the caldeirada de peixe which is a big fish stew.


Roopers knew a bit about Portuguese food and ordered the roasted cod for himself and the “bar” or sea bass for Scouse Doris. We ordered a pitcher of house white to go with it, which came in a most original glass jug which was weighted so as to tip naturally into the correct angle for pouring. Very clever. While we waited we were served a complimentary plate of delicious finely sliced raw ham, and a bowl of buttery yellow-green olives sprinkled with rock salt. Salt, decidedly, is an important part of Portuguese cuisine. Both the white fish dishes came on a rectangular plate with vegetables and beautiful little new potatoes roasted in their skins.

My caldeirada, however, was the pièce de résistance. I was first issued with a great big bib adorned with a picture of a lobster. The reason for this became clear when the dish arrived in a hinged metal cauldron, hence the name I suppose, and Sebastiao unhooked the lid with a flourish to reveal the most beautiful and fragrant stew you have ever seen. There were lobster claws, there was a king prawn, and lumps of skate, and other white fish, in the most delicious orange-tinted broth which would have made a wonderful fish soup on its own.

I was equipped with all the necessary tools – a big spoon for the broth, a knife and fork and a crochet hook for digging into the lobster claws. I prepared to get myself into one delicious mess.Some half an hour later I emerged from the primeval soup, my bib generously splashed and licking my chops. The creatures in the fishtank had now turned their backs on us in disgust.

Two pitchers of the house white had slipped down nicely. Doris had found her sea bass a bit on the salty side, but Roops enjoyed his cod. While they went outside for a fag, I

mentioned Gonzo to the guv’nor, who beamed broadly, and coffees arrived with a complimentary snifter - three huge glasses of Portuguese brandy. Cheers, Gonzo! Much as I would have loved a pasteis de nata, I was stuffed. But I shall certainly reserve space next time, and either eat meat or sit further away from the fishtank.

It’s not the cheapest restaurant in town – but situated on R ue des Dominicains alongside Chez Vincent and Scheltema, it wouldn’t be. We paid around €32 a head, without ordering starter or dessert, but got complimentary nibbles and pousse-café. Sebastiao waved us off, his moustaches curling in the rain. The fishtank bubbles flared briefly with a rude noise.

O Bifanas (Chez Sebastiao)

30, Rue des Dominicains

1000 Brussels

Tel: 02 502 25 48 (Closed Sundays)


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