A few months after the opening of the Hispania Brasserie last summer, another chapter begins in the story about Spanish gastronomy in Brussels. El Impasse del Sablon, a new temple for epicureans, just opened its doors in the Sint-Jacobsgang at the Sablon and puts only Spanish wines and culinary toppers on the menu.
We have some trouble finding the entrance of El Impasse del Sablon. Not only because the impressive shoes in the Christian Louboutin store window attract our attention but also because the entrance is just difficult to find. We ring the doorbell of what seems to be the entrance but no one comes to open the door. In the end it’s a customer sitting in the salon that shifts an umbrella stand and makes us enter the restaurant.
A waiter comes to the door, scrutinizes us and immediately decides we are in the wrong restaurant. We tell him that we have a reservation in El Impasse del Sablon but the waiter guides us through the restaurant to the door at the other side which gives to a big corridor from a hotel. He directs us to the other side of the corridor where we enter Hispania Brasserie. Mmmmm. This is not correct we think. El Impasse del Sablon is supposed to be a very hoity-toity restaurant… as we were told.
With everything sorted out a few minutes later we are offered a table with crisp white table linen and high quality table ware in a corner of El Impasse del Sablon. This is the place we were supposed to be in the first place. The refined and elegant interior is done by Lorenzo Castillo, the same Spanish interior designer that also designed the other interiors of the restaurants of the group. The benches are covered with fine velvet, the plates are custom-designed and the woodwork has motifs which remind us of the Alhambra palace in Granada (Spain). Old etchings brighten up the dark but cozy wooden interior of the restaurant.
The waiter apologizes for the inconvience and explains us the confusion. At the heart of this gastronomic adventure lie the founders of Hispania London which opened its doors in February 2013 and is now considered the largest Spanish restaurant in Europe. The initiators planned two culinary temples in the same spirit in our capital: the Hispania Brasserie Brussels, with brasserie kitchen and tapas on the menu (the one on the other side of the corridor, remember ;-), and El Impasse del Sablon that presents gastronomic specialties. “The best way to enter the restaurant is through the hotel”, the waiter advises.
We have a look at the menu. Apart from the champaign, all the wines are Spanish and also the dishes are Spanish inspired. One of the highlights is undoubtedly the five-course menu (75 €): Breton lobster in a soup of tomato, Cocotte of lettuce with cream of its leaves, avocado and pistachios, strips of mackerel, emulsion of ajada and smoked aubergines, fish of the day or roast pigeon, ‘jardinas’ lentil cream and sprouts or lamb shoulder with chestnut cream and curdled milk with coffee, followed by roast pineapple with coconut, saffron and lime or soufflé with nougat, white chocolate and citrus fruit. The waiter suggests us the milk lamb (only 21 days old) with puree made from smoked chestnuts and truffles. “We are one of the six rare restaurants outside Spain serving this milk lamb”, the waiter explains us. But we decide to dine à la carte.
With our gin & tonic we get served a wooden plate with three amuses-bouche.
On the left side we find a croquette with iberico ham, in the middle a slice of bread with foie gras and chestnut cream and on the right side pâte croustillée (crisp dough) filled with goat cheese from Asturia. “The pastry filled with goat cheese is based on the ‘bocadillo’ (a Spanish sandwich) one of the creators used to eat when he came back from school”, the waiter explains us. “The creators of the Hispania concept are six, all from Asturias. Javier Fernandez Hidalgo, the leader, is the only one responsible for the management of the two Hispania branches (London and Brussels). The pâte croustillée is something Javier really wanted to serve in an amuse bouche as a kind of souvenir to his childhood.”
The pastry tastes ok, but is not so special, we think. It’s the same kind of pastry we find in other kitchens as well, like the moroccan pastilla. The amuse-bouche with foie gras, on the contrary is a winner. It tastes heavenly on the bread so does the butter with ansjovis – a specialty from the house, served with the bread.
Of course we have to try one of the specialties of the house: “Brittany lobster in tomato heart soup’. The combination of tomato and grilled almond flakes is very tasty and the green asparagus tips add some colour to the dish.
As a second starter my dinner partner chooses the mackerel, emulsion of ajada and smoked egg plant. The emulsion of ajada (made from bell peppers and parsley) is suprisingly cold but that appears to be normal. Small pieces of eel as decoration give the dish that extra touch.
We start with Seasonal mushrooms, slow cooked egg (at low temperature), potato and truffle’. The dish is much bigger than we expected and quite filling though the egg combined with potato espuma tastes great.
Our second starter is the stew casserole in a ballotin from lettuce hearts, with garlic and apple. The emulsion around is made from parsley and mayonnaise from lettuce leaves and lemon nicely decorated with leaf made of dried and crushed spinach and pistachios cream. The waiter suggest us a Enate Chardonnay from 2016 to accompany this dish. A good choice!
As a main dish we decide to take ‘Hake, garlic and parsley sauce, apple and mushrooms’. The hake filet is served with a ‘dentelle’ of mushrooms (a garnish served as a kind of confiture made from sliced mushrooms) and a parsly emulsion.
We choose two desserts. The tradtional dame blanche and a plate with nougat soufflé, vanilla icecream with citrus, passion fruit and dotes of white chocolat.
Marcos Moran – the star chef of the family restaurant Casa Gerardo, who opened his doors in 1882 near the Asturian Gijon – serves as the gastronomic director for the supervision and composition of the gourmet restaurant’s menu. He works with the chef Adrian Mancheño who learned the trade in prestigious Spanish restaurants such as Casa Gerardo (a star), Casa Soya (two stars) and Celler de Can Roca (three stars and both in 2013 and in 2015 voted the best restaurant in the world). That’s a real wow reputation! Do we need to say that El Impasse del Sablon is a great address for Spanish food and wine lovers but keep in mind that dining here is rather expensive.
Info: El Impasse del Sablon, Sint-Jacobsgang, 1000 Brussels (Sablon). The best way to enter the restaurant is through the hotel. Tel. 02.420.48.41. Open from Tuesday till Saturday www.elimpassedelsablon.com https://www.facebook.com/ElImpassedelSablon