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Bia Mara

Sometimes I rage at the ‘cartoon’ expats – those who do not venture outside their comfort zones and who, for example, drink Irish stout and Scandinavian lager, at export prices, in a chain pub when there is a great Belgian bar next door. I mean, imagine if I moved to Bordeaux and only ate at Léon de Bruxelles – how incredibly sad would that make me? And so it turns out that, on the weekend that an English friend visits, my wife and I take him to… a fish and chip place.

Opened last autumn, Bia Mara is Brussels’ first fish and chip joint. Only it’s not your standard ‘cod’n’chips in yesterday’s paper’ affair. For a start it’s Irish (the name of the place meaning seafood in Gaelic, I am told). There is table service. The fish isn’t battered: it’s panko-breaded. And for chips,  read potato wedges.

But it works. My two companions go for the spicy pollock while, in an act of rebellion, I plump for the breaded chicken. The chook is still moist, actually tastes of chicken, and comes with a seriously crunchy coating, as well as a slightly underwhelming garlic and truffle mayonnaise. Their fish, while good and very fresh, feels way too thin. One of life’s great pleasures is for the fish to come off in flakes underneath the batter (or panko breading), but sadly pollock  is not naturally a chipper species. As a result, the white protein is as thin as the two panko coats put together. Luckily, the accompanying dip is fiery and moreish  – so much so, in fact, that I don’t even go back to my own chichi sauce.

As sides, we chose beans with chorizo and that great English chippy staple, mushy peas. While the beans are no more than okay, the peas are the day’s clear winners. Instead of marrowfat peas, these are actually made from fresh garden peas and served loosely crushed in a minty sauce, rather than puréed. Our visitor, who, as a stalwart of the London rockabilly scene, knows a thing or two about fish and chips (usually around 3am – all that drinking and dancing makes you terribly hungry), declares them “better than back home”.

Bia Mara isn’t cheap. Or, put it another way, the fish/chicken-to-spud ratio is on the stingy side. We pay €45 exactly for the three of us, which includes a beer each. For that money, you can have a decent Belgian plat du jour  and eat it off real crockery using proper cutlery. But, as an indulgent treat – rather than a culinary destination, Bia Mara is just grand.

41 rue du Marché aux Poulets, 1000 Brussels;