Le Pré Salé, tucked away between De Brouckère and Sainte-Catherine, is apparently a bit of a Brussels institution - so much so that I've never been able to get a table there. All is not lost, though, as a few doors down (many of them leading into other restaurants that we suspected might deserve a visit of their own) we found Restaurant de la Bourse.
Just like Le Pré Salé, it offers a wide selection of Belgian classics: steaks, mussels, eel, shrimps, frites, and so on (vegetarians should probably stay away, I'm afraid). I'm not qualified to compare the two establishments any further so I'll stop now, and in any case there's more than enough to say about Restaurant de la Bourse, beginning with the warm and competent welcome from the lady in charge (who was kind enough to re-seat a regular customer lingering over the end of his meal so that we could sit down), and the promising mixture of locals and visitors already in place.
I'm afraid that the combination of a phone camera and large portions of food neither chosen nor plated with aesthetics in mind means these are not my most appetising photos ever, but you'll have to trust me. Of the three of us, W had the two courses for 22 euros set menu. His first course was a tomato stuffed with a filling that was light on the mayonnaise and heavy on the North Sea shrimps. This was certainly one of the best versions of this Belgian staple I've seen, and it would also have been ample as a main course.
M, meanwhile, went straight for the moules marinières (22.50E). While she did note that there was a hint of grittiness that should have been eradicated, she was on the whole very appreciative of this fragrant potful (although having heroically made her way through all 1kg+ she announced she had had her fill of mussels for a while). I have reasons to avoid mussels altogether but I could see these ones were plump and juicy, and there was not a dud among them. My veal (21E) cooked 'grand-mère' style - with a thick sauce of bacon, mushrooms and onions - was an incredibly filling combination of white, tender meat and a rich and delectable sauce. Perhaps not the best choice for a summer's evening, but I've rarely had a more hearty and generous plateful. My only quibbles were about the accompanying salad with its creamy dressing - it just didn't go with a dish of this kind and I would have preferred nothing at all - and the chips, which were fine but a little flabby (it didn't help that we'd had unusually good ones here, which makes a speciality of them, the previous day).
W's sizeable steak with peppercorn sauce was another accomplished effort - he felt that the sauce, a little thick and gravy-like, perhaps threatened to overwhelm the meat, but its beautiful tenderness made up for it. After that we were all more than full, but I couldn't resist trying a Dame Blanche (7E) just to see how they did desserts. I have to say I was a tiny bit disappointed, as the ice cream was fine but the chocolate sauce cold and clearly from a bottle. This did not stop me from polishing it off, of course.
Reading back through this post, I can see I've highlighted various small niggles, and I feel bound to include them, but this was on the whole an excellent meal, in a friendly, relaxed and confident establishment, that was more than the sum of its parts. I'd have no hesitation in returning - albeit with a very big appetite - to Restaurant de la Bourse.
Restaurant de la Bourse
rue de Flandre 32