review

'Rugantino': Rise like the phoenix

© Saskia Vanderstichele
Onze score

We have been waiting five years for the reopening of Rugantino. The Italian eatery, which had been believed to be eternal, had been destroyed by a fire. It is moving to see a restaurant reborn from its ashes.

Among the window displays on the boulevard Anspachlaan, with its succession of hair-dressers, snack bars, and telephone shops, there is one that catches the eye due to the size of its windows and the magnificence of its wooden frames. Rugantino, at number 184, has a slightly outmoded elegance. The vast space is bright and calm, lined with tables covered in celadon-green table cloths. The landing has been turned into a level where people can dine.

Visually, this mezzanine is the place’s signature feature. Under it, two vases full of thick sprays of flowers decorate a closed piano. At the entrance, a friendly waiter in a white shirt shakes the hands of the many diners, whom he greets by name. It’s an emotional moment. The place having been closed for five years because of a fire, you can feel the enthusiasm of the loyal customers, who are eager to rekindle the atmosphere it had before the disaster.

That’s Rugantino, a place whose regulars are not looking for something new but for the timelessly classic. This place offers exactly that, with its simple and well-designed menu which, by the way, now scrupulously lists allergens (down to sulphites, etc.). The options are the same as before: starters, pastas, a few meat dishes, some fish (depending on availability), and pizzas (which can also be taken away).

To start with, we chose a rustic dish, the Stracciosa (€6.40), which we don’t recall seeing anywhere else. Consisting of beef stew served with an egg, a crouton, and some Parmesan, it was replenishing and beautifully seasoned, perfectly adapted to be a starter. We followed it with aubergine conchiglie (€12.50). The pasta, shaped like big sea shells, was generous, perfectly al dente, and impeccably moist, melting on the tongue. We could tell that a mama’s love had gone into this dish.

Our only regret, for which we have only ourselves to blame: we had no room left for a dessert. A pity, because the zabaglione, panna cotta, and home-made chocolate mousse were enticing. We left with full stomachs, smiles on our faces, and money to spare, utterly delighted in the knowledge that this legendary place is not done bringing joy to the people of Brussels. Hopefully, the yellow and blue “grands travaux” barriers in the streets outside won’t dampen people’s appetites.

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