(© Saskia Vanderstichele)
Somar-Volubilis, a restaurant in Molenbeek, has been much discussed due to the arrival of a chef who fled from Syria. It makes a beautiful story, but does the food make it worth a visit?
The adventure was widely reported in the media. Because of the ongoing civil war in his country, Salem Salem left Aleppo in January 2014. After a lot of travelling, he arrived in Belgium, in Binche.
He brought very little with him, apart from a particular know-how, of the kind that transcends borders. Back home, Salem ran a restaurant. His business, Somar, was known throughout the city for the quality of its food.
For the past four months, he has been manning the ovens once more thanks to three brothers from Morocco, the Rahalis, who hired him to fire up Volubilis, the halal snack bar they opened in the early 1990s. Located on a corner on Leopold II-laan/boulevard Léopold II, the place is now called Somar-Volubilis. It’s pretty indistinguishable from other snack bars of the kind, at least in appearance. Photos of the dishes attached to the facade and illustrated menus, it all rings a bell.
The interior, which is quite stripped-back, is more appealing. With an open kitchen behind a counter where the skewers are all lined up, it’s like being in a restaurant in a North African medina. There are a few details in particular that complete the illusion: a coal fire oven like those that can be seen on Jemaa el-Fnaa square, Middle Eastern music played straight off a mobile phone, a waiter who writes down your order in the Arabic alphabet…
Salem’s food is so wonderful that Brussels becomes a distant memory. We tried nearly everything. The four portions of warak enab bi zeit (€4), a type of stuffed vine leaves, were worth noting for their very subtle hint of lemon, which lightened the dish. The houmous (€4) was one of the best that we have tasted and we loved that it was enhanced with a touch of sesame paste and a little paprika. Equally delectable were the kibbeh (€5), balls of lamb meat, with their beautiful balance between onions, cumin, and finely-chopped nuts. Also worth a mention is the baba ganoush (€4) which, like everything else, was not too oily. Our lasting impression was one of a “handmade” approach to cooking, which is too often missing in fast food from the region. Salem’s story is not only full of beauty but full of flavour too.
ma/lu/Mo > do/je/Th: 11.30 > 23.30
vr/ve/Fr: 11.30 > 14.00 & 15 > 23.30
za/sa/Sa: 12 > 0.00
zo/di/Su: 12 > 23.30