On a busy street linking Sainte Catherine to the Grand Place we spotted an almost inconspicuous chalkboard that read, very simply, “Fish & Chips”.
As it turned out it was almost dinner time so we walked into the small contemporary restaurant space of Bia Mara, which was smart and minimalist in design. We installed ourselves on small stools at one of the few remaining tables and took a quick glance at the tables around us adorned with beers and generous helpings of fish and chips. Our appetites were whetted!
A closer inspection of the handwritten chalkboard menus on the walls revealed that this was not just another fish ‘n’ chip joint, but an eatery championing ‘new school’ fish and chips, using only fresh sustainable fish delivered daily. The menu included quite a few varieties of sustainable fish, such as ling, hake and haddock, encrusted in a range of panko breadcrumb flavours and served with creative homemade sauces. I opted for the fish of the day – skrei, a Norwegian variety in season from January to March – and skipped the classic crumb and tartare sauce in favour of the lemon and fennel panko crumb with basil sauce, accompanied by seaweed-salted chips.
It wasn’t long before it arrived at the table. Instead of a plate I was presented with a reusable wooden crate-like box complete with biodegradable cutlery made of corn starch, nice touches that reemphasised the restaurant’s eco-friendly concept. The fish and chips themselves were delicious – light and not too greasy, with creative flavor combinations that packed a punch, adding interest to a simple and wholesome meal. Those queuing out the front by the time we left were in for a treat.
I don’t eat much seafood, but when I do it’s usually in the form of a crunchy-beer-battered-deep-fried fish with some golden chips on the side. So when I walked past Bia Mara with its sign spruiking fish and chips how could I resist?
The wooden tables and stools are a nice contrast to the cold concrete walls and floors of the restaurant. It had a very relaxed feel inside and the waiters’ friendly service matched the mood of the place too. I ordered the Jamaican jerk panko crumb haddock with seaweed salted chips and lemon cajun sauce. Two big pieces of crunchy golden fish arrived, perched on top of a bed of chips. I love spicy foods and have been known to put tabasco sauce on almost everything I eat but this flavour hit was on a different level altogether.
After a few minutes of ooo-ing and ahhh-ing, I ignored my numb tongue and burning mouth and continued to dip the fish and chips into the delicious cajun sauce. The chips, which still had their skins on, helped to calm the tingling sensation in my mouth a little, but nothing could stop me from demolishing the fiery mountain of fish in front of me.
Bia Mara is a fantastic option if you’re in the mood for some deep fried fish. I grew up eating fish and chips and this little gem in Brussels is up there with the best I’ve ever tasted. The jamaican jerk option was a welcome change but be warned: it’s not for the faint-hearted!
Rue du Marché aux Poulets 41, 1000 Brussels