Café Flora: On the road to Memphis

© Saskia Vanderstichele

A part of the history of Sint-Gillis/Saint-Gilles that is currently undergoing restauration, the Aegidium is arousing curiosity. Café Flora, the first phase of the project, has just opened its doors.

One of the borough’s iconic buildings – “Egidius” meaning “Gilles/Gillis” in Latin –, the Aegidium is a giant 4,500-square-metre space, the size of which is not apparent from the exterior. Previously named “Diamond Palace” because of the 5,000 lightbulbs that made it shine so brightly, this legendary establishment on the Sint-Gillisvoorplein/Parvis de Saint-Gilles has been waiting to be brought back to life since 1986.

Hopes of seeing the place reopen its doors were revived in summer 2018 with the brief appearance of T’es pas prêt. That temporary bar was installed for a period of three months on the Sint-Gillisvoorplein/Parvis de Saint-Gilles with the aim of attracting public attention to the coming architectural transformation.

At the time, Lionel Jadot, the decorator in charge of the project, announced that, in eighteen months, the Aegidium would be reborn as a vast community space combining co-living, a bar, a shared working space, a section for events, and a cinema, similar to projects such as La Recyclerie in Paris or TCRM-Blida in Metz.

Twelve months later, the tip of the iceberg has just emerged. Called Café Flora, which was the original name of this outpost of the cultural venue, the place has returned to its original function, recreation. Straight away, we loved the beautiful decor in a style that’s unprecedented in Brussels. It was influenced by the Memphis Group, an architectural movement founded in the 1980s by Ettore Sottsass, and features an avalanche of vibrant pop forms and colours.

As for the food, Café Flora has a menu for all times of the day. In the morning, soft-boiled egg (€4), pastry (€1.80), poached pear in syrup (€5), etc. At cocktail hour, a platter of cold meats for €12. At lunchtime, burrata (€12), croque-monsieur (toasted ham and cheese sandwich) (€11), and, best of all, an excellent open sandwich with braised cabbage, hazelnuts, and lardons (bacon cubes) (€12).

What’s more, they have a respectable drinks menu; Moscow Mule (€9) and caipirinha (€8.50), for example, and a few well-chosen beers (such as XX Bitter for €4.20 or Tilquin Gueuze for €7.70). The best thing about the place is the large terrasse scattered with little yellow and sky-blue tables. It’s a pity that the sun no longer reaches it in the evening, instead depositing its golden rays on the Volkshuis/Maison du Peuple.

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