Yves Mattagne is not Europe’s most popular chef. Instead, he focuses on cooking in his kitchen at the Sea Grill in Brussels, which happens to be one of Europe’s very best seafood restaurants.
What you don’t know when you walk into the fairly ugly Radisson SAS that houses the restaurant is that you are about to have some truly memorable fish and shellfish. Ever since Mattagne started cooking here, he focused on seafood, and developed a style that is characterised by robust flavours, precise technique and most importantly stunning produce. This is not food that is showy in any way, nor is it tacky; it is food that is made to please both the heart and mind, as it is hedonistic and cleverly composed.
Take a few of his signature dishes. A first course that is always on the menu is King Crab cooked on salt and seaweed with a chilli/butter emulsion.This is minimalism at its best, as you end up with nothing but the meat of an entire leg of a king crab, and a sumptuously rich butter sauce. The quality, cooking and intensity of flavours of this dish make it absolutely worth every cent of the rather Parisian price tag of €80. When you thought that it was already a seriously impressive starter, another plate appears. A bowl, filled with crab meat, olives and a cheese/potato foam adds another dimension to the dish and brings in a more complex, but equally intense preparation. The latter almost feels like Mattagne just wants to say that he is perfectly capable of serving more complex, modern food. No matter what the intention is, it is a bowl of pure pleasure.
One of the dishes that one doesn’t find all that often anymore is turbot, cooked on the bone and served with a classical béarnaise. In the Benelux region, a handful of top-restaurants do serve this kind of dish, with Hof van Cleve and Oud Sluis coming to mind. When done well, it is a rare and delicious treat for any gourmand. The Sea Grill offers just that, a darne of a turbot (normally from 8-10kg beasts) roasted, and served with either oyster béarnaise or sauce choron. A few vegetables on the side, and you have a dish that is captivating to say the least. Cooked on the bone, the turbot’s meaty flesh is not only incredibly firm and juicy, but has that gelatinous texture to it that is so rare to find. Combined with the oyster béarnaise this is about as addictive, and comforting as food can get. Apart from the product quality, and the technical skill that are clearly displayed in this dish, it feels special also for its generous portion. Certainly, one pays €85 for this dish, but the portion served is delightfully large. Contrary to what most chefs in Belgium and the Netherlands are currently doing, Mattagne sticks to what he knows, and satisfies his guests in a very primitive sense. That ultimately is what great cooking ought to do.
As we mentioned the prices here, we ought to add that for those wishing to spend a little less, the lunch menu at €65 offers fantastic value for money. Featuring products such as scallops, cod, or red mullet, it is no less attractive than the dinner menu, and showcases a more modern side of Mattagne’s cooking.
In a restaurant such as Sea Grill, it is difficult not to be enthusiastic about the food coming out of the kitchen. This is some of the very finest seafood in Europe: few restaurants have the products, technical skills, and budget to be able to serve such food, so a visit here is a must for anyone in the area.