Before I go any further with this review, I must remind readers that the veggie restaurant scene in Brussels is far-far-behind the veggie scene in London. There are a handful of near-veggie restaurants and a couple of really veggie ones. What I mean by near-veggie is supposedly veggie, but not really. Most "veggie" restaurants serve fish or seafood, which is really extremely disappointing !!
Most mainstream restaurants on the other hand would suggest a salad or a cheese-based dish as a vegetarian option. The salad would usually contain seafood (that they will helpfully remove if you ask them to), the cheese-based dish whether its pizza or pasta or indeed anything else is usually not 100% veggie as the cheeses invariably contain animal rennet made using the stomach-lining of calves, and most risotto-type dishes will contain chicken stock or bouillon unless you tell them you don't want it. Chips are often fried in the same oil as meat. And the most popular chipshop in Brussels fries its chips in horse-fat. Often even after you've told them you don't eat seafood or fish or chicken or meat, restaurants here will still include ingredients such as fish sauce (in the Oriental restaurants) that are not vegetarian and hope that you don't really notice or mind. So Caveat Emptor and certainly "Caveat Veggie"
Now back to the review.
It was a Thursday evening when my foodie friend N and I decided to visit L'Element Terre.
I'd been there before and know that the owner is a veggie. Her best friend (a charming lady who serves as the restaurant's maitre'd) had explained to me the last time around that they've had to put fish and seafood on the menu or else people don't even bother entering the restaurant because they think veggie food is a bit strange. She said that once people are in, she tries very hard to get them to choose the veggie option. It must be a really hard choice as a restaurateur and a veggie to have to take that decision (so I decided not to be too judgemental about the decision to serve fish in a veggie restaurant, although it upsets me a bit).
The restaurant has somewhat of a hippy / New -Agey feel to it and N remarked that this was probably because being vegetarian in Brussels (and on the continent) is still not particularly mainstream. It's something quite out-of-the-ordinary and is considered as an alternative lifestyle. So, even the more expensive restaurants that cater to vegetarians tend to look like they could be made of hemp and are earthy; ie good things rather than having a more designer / luxurious take.
Our friendly waitress wasn't very sure of the menu options and didn't initially know if they cooked their fish in the same oil as the veggie items but did offer to go and check. (They dont ! So no cross-contamination issues - Well done L'element terre).
We started with 'Le Perles de Madras' and the 'Pakoras de Legumes'. The latter was absolutely delicious - little pieces of veg dipped in an absolutely delicious and light-as-air batter and fried. The batter was fresh, crispy and light and the vegetables were cooked to perfection. I would have gladly ordered another plate of these. L'Element Terre serves their starters in both tapas and larger portions and for this one I'd certain recommend that you super-size on this one. It was outstanding. Probably the best fritters I have ever eaten and that list includes the ones my grandmom used to make.
Our mains consisted of a "Tajine de Rabat", a Morrocan tagine dish , which was another demonstration of culinary accomplishment and a "Delice du Jardin D'Eden" which consisted of a seitan slab in a sauce of mustard and figs, oranges and fresh coriander served with seasonal vegetables and rice.
The couscous accompanying the tagine was perfectly light and fresh and served as a great foil to the intense flavours of the tagine of tomatoey vegetables stewed in myriad spices. The Tagine was very good and I would certainly order it again. The Delice, though, is an acquired taste. The mustard sauce is hugely overpowering and although the seitan was edible, it was a bit sticky and felt weirdly damp. I've eaten seitan before and liked it; this time, however, it tasted like uncooked dough. The rice accompanying this dish was however superbly well-cooked, so that was certainly a redeeming factor.
Puddings are a selection of cold tart or crumble-type dishes laid out on a side table, so you can choose from a selection. The waitress was kind enough to say we could have a half of each instead of one big slice of a single tart. I tried the white chocolate tart, which tasted liked it had a vanilla custard filling. I would say it was very good but would have tasted even nicer if it had been served warm with some fresh custard. My second choice was the milk chocolate tart, which was rich and sweet and everything a good chocolate tart should be. Here again, I think the temperature at which it was served detracted from how special the own-made desserts really were.
With two starters and mains, plus two alcoholic drinks and a large bottle of water between N and me, our bill totted up to just under 100 euros.
I was a tiny bit taken aback at the total bill given the ambience of the place , which lulls you into a false sense of security because you think this might be a budget-establishment. It's certainly not. But then again, I did not regret paying a single penny. I am very happy to support the few restaurants in Brussels that do serve vegetarian food and L'ElementTerre is certainly doing my fee justice.
I would recommend this as a good place for veggies to visit in Brussels for a very pleasant and relaxed evening meal.