We meet charming Alice in Brussels’ quiet Brugmann, an area where the Art Déco and Art Nouveau periods have left their mark.
Sometimes called “Little Paris” because of its Hausmannian architecture and high number of French residents, Place Brugmann and its surroundings happen to be a pretty fancy neighbourhood and home to very elegant people.
In these pretty streets with an elegant flair, one can find many businesses, including a large amount of antique dealers, fashion retailers, and jewellery and interior design shops. At night, shops give way to restaurants where one can enjoy a nice evening.
We also enjoy strolling there on Sundays to have brunch or do some shopping.
It’s at ICI, a modern canteen and delicatessen, that we told Alice to meet us.
Sitting on a small bench which looks both designer and cosy, Alice is already waiting for us and holding a detox juice. Good idea, let's enjoy the morning peacefulness !
This place that looks like a Brooklyn coffeeshop and was opened by two friends, Marine and Saskia, has everything we like: a large chalkboard where daily specials are written, comfy cushions with colourful patterns placed on mismatched, vintage looking chairs and some pretty plants for some added charm. At the back, a delightful-looking counter showcases yummy treats to take away. It has a retro feel thanks to pretty tiles and incandescent lamps hanging from the ceiling.
To cut a long story short, we are daydreaming of spending hours comfortably sitting on its benches.
Luckily, the place serves breakfast, brunch during weekends, lunch and afternoon snacks!
On their menu: quinoa with vegetables tartar served with lentils and beet root hummus, Thai-inspired beef tartar, salmon tataki, plates of vegetables from the farmers market, stews, open-faced sandwiches and a selection of other ever-changing specials.
(Our tip: get the diet plate which is chosen by dietician Carine Laforêt or one of their Super Bowls. They’re delicious!)
Good to know: salads and sandwiches are also available for takeaway.
Saskia, Marine and their staff are very welcoming and sweet, thus making the space cosy and very peaceful, so it’s no wonder that booking a table is recommended!
During our visit, we had the chance to meet Saskia and just had to ask her some questions!
How did you come up with ICI’s concept?
Marine—my friend and business partner—and I wanted to create a place where we could pair food service with an artistic side, as it’s a field we both come from. Marine was doing art workshops for children but didn’t have such a strong interest in the restaurant industry. I, on the other hand, have always been into cooking! I got into it because my dad managed a restaurant. We didn’t really have an established concept when we started, though. We just wanted to open a place where we would feel at home. This is why we started ICI, which happened 4 years ago already!
Where do you find your products?
Twice a week, I order seasonal vegetables. I create daily specials depending on what I have on hand and my inspiration. We don’t have a fixed menu—it changes every day (aside from some of favourites which stay on the menu).
We aren’t serving 100% organic food but we are definitely trying to. We get our vegetables from a local producer and believe that one can eat healthily without every ingredient holding the “organic” label.
Apart from that, we also have some gluten-free dishes, a gluten-free cake, a lactose-free one too.
At ICI, food is mostly vegetarian but we offer daily meat and fish dishes. We try to have something for everyone! We have a big deli counter with vegetables-based dishes. Everything can be ordered to go and everything is homemade. And on Sundays, we serve brunch!
At ICI, food is delicious and healthy. What are your tips to eat healthily all while enjoying it?
At ICI, all vegetables are boiled and not steamed, unlike what most people think. We add good oils and grains. My tip: add good things to your vegetables. Add some grout, some stock, some hummus… Think of adding pomegranate, sunflower seed or sprouts!
When cooking, I love using my blender. I use it to blend fresh herbs that don’t look perfect. I just need to think of a base and blend it, it’s very convenient!
The visual aspect is also very important. Add some colour to your plate!
Our motto: eating a little bit of everything and preferring quality to quantity. For some of our dishes, we collaborate with a dietician. Our customers request targeted, healthy dishes a lot, so I come up with recipes and our dietician approves them. That’s how we are able to offer three diet dishes a day.
Rumour has it that you recently opened a new place? We want to know more!
That is correct! Marine and I opened ICI’s sister café called Wabi, near the Ixelles Ponds. Actually Wabi is the name of the food we’re serving there: Wabis are healthy and delicious crepes filled with fresh vegetables, herbs, hummus and more, and can also have meat or fish. We serve them alongside fruit or vegetable juice. It’s delicious! We also serve tasty breakfasts such as Budwig cream. Everything can be eaten in or taken away. We serve brunch every Saturday as well.
And guess what? We will soon be hosting cooking classes here and are partnering with a dietician for that project too!
Who are your customers?
At ICI, most of our clients are regulars. We designed the place as somewhere to feel at home, a place that would make people want to spend hours reading, chatting or even working. That might be one of the reasons our guests are mostly women. In terms of interior design, we did everything ourselves. We spent hours thrifting, finding pretty furniture… We love it! On the other hand Wabi, our second spot, has a more masculine customer base. A lot of men come to have a quick lunch and the atmosphere is more simple and elegant.
What recipe can you share with us?
A parsley and hazelnut pesto! What is great about it, it’s that you can enjoy it both cold or warm, and that it goes amazingly with vegetables, fish and meat.
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch curly-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon cashew cream
1 handful of hazelnut (lightly toasted)
1 small garlic clove
1 pinch of Espelette chilli pepper
1 pinch of salt
Place all ingredients inside a blender. Cover halfway with organic vegetable stock and blend until mixture gets creamy. Enjoy!
And here’s the icing on the cake! If you are in the neighbourhood, we have five more spots for you to check out:
Winery - 18 Place Brugmann
To have a glass of wine with a plate of cooked meat, a bowl of soup or one of their surprise specials.
Fleuriste Cattleya - 118 Avenue Louis Lepoutre
One of the best florists in town. The most beautiful seasonal flowers are presented along with all sorts of pots and vases, branch crowns and more floral arrangements.
Label Green - 12 Rue Alphonse Renard
An organic delicatessen. Go there for seasonal vegetables and fruits, a large selection of fresh products as well as organic and natural cosmetics.
Vintage Items - 33 Rue Darwin
A retro design shop with actual vintage items and a selection of letters and signs.
Bellerose Woman - 19 Place Brugmann.