After keeping his hand in with Le Cocq, Frédéric Nicolay has unveiled what is undoubtedly his most personal and ambitious project to date: Château Moderne. It is, quite simply, splendid.
We don't know how long they will stay there, given that it's a listed building, but they certainly provide an interesting insight into the concept: two posters stuck up on the outside refer to a work by the artist Pierre Bismuth. It shows the actor Michael Caine's declaration on the front page of a British newspaper: “I'm every bourgeois' nightmare.” In a similar way, what the new boss has done with the place could be seen as a series of offences against good taste and small touches of class. For example, on taking over the former premises of Kwint on the Kunstberg/Mont des Arts, Frédéric Nicolay demanded that the Arne Quinze artwork in the building be unceremoniously cleared out. You cannot create without making bold moves. It is that principle of starting from scratch that has enabled the brains behind Café Belga to create spaces that are completely unique.
With roughly 400 covers (in and out), Château Moderne (named by the architect Kersten Geers in tribute to the famous Château Marmont in L.A.) is impressive; a sort of long narrow rectangle whose immense sun-soaked terrasse is covered by a canopy thirty metres or so in length, with benches made from rough sawn beams, trees, and mist sprayers.
Inside, it is Byzantium. The five connecting rooms with herringbone vaulted ceilings appear to be coated with gold leaf, the work of Lara Nicolaï, which gives the place an almost sacred atmosphere. The very narrow bar is topped with sheet zinc by Ateliers Nectoux, the material that has become part of their signature style. The counter, behind which sit three sets of beer pumps and a highly unusual soda gun that brings to mind Tom Cruise in Cocktail, also features a concrete tile silhouette in a style reminiscent of the heyday of the designer Jules Wabbes.
Behind it, there is a wooden latticed structure, a nod to the interior designer Christophe Gevers. Fans, iron grills to protect the bottles, lights inspired by Koenraad Dedobbeleer, wood panelling with a pyramid pattern, half-moon mirrors that multiply the space, and flooring salvaged from the old Brussels Stock Exchange – all these elements combine to make this establishment, which has only just opened, one of the capital's top spots.
They have a selection of draught beers by the Duvel group (including Bel Pils for €3), but it is the cocktails that made the biggest impression on us (for example, the Paper Plane for €11) thanks to the selection of fine spirits supplied by LIB. The food is in a similar vein to that at Le Cocq, with breakfast dishes (€12 for four crêpes), avocado toast (€8), burgers (€9.50), and chips (€4).
Kunstberg/Mont des Arts 1, Brussel/Bruxelles
7/7, 7 > 3.00