This was 2017

Restaurateur Sara Lenzi: 'Some people come every day, it's wonderful'

© Saskia Vanderstichele
| Sara Lenzi: 'Genovese is a dish for the family that has got together at last. Through this culinary ritual, the family unit is strengthened.'

The young Neapolitan Sara Lenzi fell in love with Brussels, and moved here to open a restaurant with a locavore approach, meaning that she only uses ingredients that are grown close to home. Expect Italian cuisine with a contemporary Belgian touch.

Launched on 2 January 2017, Entre Nous is the perfect place to take stock of the year gone by. As it’s exactly one year old, the timing is just right, but that’s not the only reason. Sara Lenzi’s experience says a lot about the tensions which permeate society in this time of economic challenges when lots of people are just about getting by. This young Italian woman’s project is the kind we love because it is driven by passion.

Having come to Brussels thanks to Leonardo, the famous exchange programme set up by the European Union, Sara turned her sights from international relations towards something that has always held a place in her heart: food.

Hyperaware of the current environment, this young woman didn’t want to open a restaurant like any other; she wanted to do something that “makes sense”, to develop “a project that is long-term, local, and sociable”. With this in mind, she devised Entre Nous, a little urban eatery offering dishes and products “that tell a story”.

Located on De Merodestraat/rue de Mérode, the place is like a colourful oasis in the otherwise concrete-grey neighbourhood surrounding the Zuidstation/Gare du Midi. With backing from Kiss Kiss Bank Bank, the young Neapolitan was able to realize her dream of bringing local, sustainable, and convivial dining to the heart of the city.

With large floor-to-ceiling windows, the place is quadrangle-shaped and is decorated with a pretty shared table, a wall covered in herbs, shelves full of good-quality products, and a central island in pale wood. The perforated metal counter surrounding the kitchen completes the aesthetic

The heart and soul of Entre Nous is the food bought from local suppliers: vegetables from Vert d’Iris (Anderlecht), who take Sara’s compost to fertilise their vegetable garden, little-known fish from Pintafish (Leuven), and meat from La Ferme de L’Escafène (Ragnies). It’s Sara’s chef, Roberto Bianchi, who brings it all to life with dishes that reinvent Italian cuisine – pasta of the day, minestrone, buffet of seasonal vegetables, sandwiches, etc. – by incorporating products of Belgian origin.

An undeniable success, as Sara confirms: “I’m very pleased. What gives me the most joy is having been able to create a loyal customer base. I have people who come every day, it’s wonderful. In the beginning, it wasn’t easy since I didn’t do any advertising. It all happened by word of mouth.”

Ancestral ritual

Now Sara just needs to prove that she is inventive enough to keep the customers coming. One way that she is doing so is with her outstanding monthly Sunday brunch, to which she gave the name “pranz” – a name inspired by the Italian word “pranzo”, meaning lunch. It’s brimming with traditions from her native region.

She takes to the kitchen herself for the occasion, to prepare her “Genovese”, for example, which she takes care to explain so as to avoid misunderstandings: “contrary to what you might think, this dish doesn’t come from Genoa, but is actually one of the oldest dishes in traditional Neapolitan cuisine, still prepared according to an ancestral ritual. Technically, it’s a ‘ragù’, in other words, a sauce with two essential features to its preparation: the inclusion of meat and a very slow cooking process. But ‘la Genovese’ is a ragout with no tomatoes.”

Sara’s real objective is to import its symbolism into the Belgian capital. “Genovese is a dish for the family that has got together at last. Through this culinary ritual, the family unit is strengthened. It marks significant moments, like when children are allowed to sit at the adults’ table for the first time. Genovese is the dish that you share as a sign of belonging to the family ‘clan’."

"Every family has its own secret recipe. The quantity and diversity of the ingredients and flavours vary greatly. However, the main, fundamental ingredients are onion, meat, pasta, and – of course – the ritual, which is to take as long as you need.”

Things are, however, less than perfect. As Sara points out, the location remains complicated: “There’s a catastrophic cleanliness problem. People throw their rubbish everywhere and it doesn’t necessarily get collected every week.” This situation contributes to spreading a negative image of the neighbourhood.

But there’s worse. Sara explains: “The area around the Zuidstation/Gare du Midi and De Merodestraat/rue de Mérode in particular, is where illegal taxis leave for Paris. Aside from attracting shady characters, this has led to competition for control of the territory. Early this year, there was a shooting. I was very scared. Since then, it has calmed down a bit, but I really hope the borough does something to make the area safer.”

As for plans for 2018, Sara is determined to stay on course as well as finding the time to develop more partnerships in order to organize workshops on subjects that interest her, such as permaculture.

Who is Sara?

Born in 1987 in Naples, Sara Lenzi completed her three-year bachelor’s degree in international relations there. After graduating, she worked in business communication, and did an internship with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome, during which she successfully applied to Leonardo for a grant. She came to Brussels as a result, moving here for good in November 2012.

In her new hometown, Sara made a dream come true by opening Entre Nous, a small, convivial eatery where she reinvents Italian cuisine and works with good-quality products from local suppliers. In her own words, “food that tells a story”.

> Entre Nous. De Merodestraat 29 rue De Mérode, Sint-Gillis/Saint-Gilles, 0484-21.66.95, ma/lu/Mo > do/je/Th 10 > 19.00

Kijk op 2017

BRUZZ dook in de eigen archieven voor een overzicht van het voorbije jaar. Samen met experten blikken we terug op een voor de hoofdstad bijzonder bewogen jaar.

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