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'A certain magic': Ricotta & Parmesan fuses traditional Italian produce with the best of Belgian
You know you’ve hit upon somewhere special when you walk through an unassuming corridor to find a place with the brocante charm of pasta machines and retro housewares hanging from the exposed brickwork, the waft of 1950s Italian ballads, and a palpable buzz of energy among diners.
A stone’s throw from De Brouckere and down the road from the Galeries Royales Saint Hubert, Ricotta and Parmesan is a bustling Italian restaurant, whether it’s serving travellers, business lunches, or theatre, opera and cinema goers enjoying a pre- or post-show bite.
Belgian restaurateurs Renaud Waeterloos and Maud Novalet have pieced together an extensive menu, covering pizza, pasta, antipasti and other dishes inspired from around Italy – recipes and flavours collected by Waeterloos, passionate about Italian cuisine and discovering the Italian side of his heritage.
A renowned sommelier in Brussels before opening the restaurant in 1999, Waeterloos fuses traditional Italian cooking techniques and produce with the best of Belgian to bring out the flavours. “The food I eat in Italy never tastes the same in Belgium, however carefully and lovingly recreated. Maybe it’s to do with the soil, the quality of the oil, the stoves, the weather – but when you make a fusion with what we have in Belgium, and use quality ingredients, a certain magic is born,” he says.
Word of mouth has often brought celebrities to the restaurant. Pharrell Williams and his entourage had dinner here in August and amongst other notables, Waeterloos and Novalet have also hosted David Bowie.
Cured meats, speciality cheeses and tomatoes are imported from Italy especially for the antipasti platters. Vegetables are grilled and lightly seasoned with garlic and herbs, and the homemade white pizza is soft and warm, with melted scarmorza and olives.
Yet the restaurant’s popularity rests on its collection of pastas says Waeterloos. Part of the fun is that diners can choose their pasta and their sauce separately, and the menu offers a range of gluten free pastas and sauces for coeliac sufferers. Sauces range from classic meat ragu to savoury sweet pairings such as Gorgonzola and pear.
Waeterloos’ personal favourites are the filled pastas. The first I try is the panzerotti filled with a tartufato – a chunky mix of funghi porcini and Belgian mushrooms, served with a cream and black truffle oil sauce and scattered with speckles of black truffle and parmesan shavings. It’s lighter than it looks and the combination of the mushrooms, cream and black truffle is utterly moreish.
Next, the ricotta and spinach grantortellones with a smoky pancetta, leek and tomato sauce. The rich, robust flavour of sauce is well balanced by the freshness of the ricotta and spinach mix. Waeterloos the sommelier, has built up a cave of Italian wine at Ricotta & Parmesan and chooses a La Macinala San Vincenti 2015 Chianti Classico with a soft, ripe fruit depth that beautifully accompanies the pasta.
Sadly I had no room for dessert – but it would have been a hard choice between some of the Belgo-Italian fusions on offer – ‘Pain Perdu’ panetonne filled with almond milk ice cream, a Belgian gaufre Tiramisu, and a Sabayon made with Galliano liqueur, and served with a caramelised pineapple marmalade and amaretti biscuits.
The new autumn menu to mark the 20th anniversary of the restaurant is set to feature amongst others, a roquette, nut and white truffle oil pesto, a sausage and fennel sauce, and spicy risotto with Italian sausage and chorizo. A special tasting of all the new gluten-free recipes will take place on 10 October with a presentation by the Belgian Coeliac society.
Ricotta & Parmesan, Rue L’Ecuyer 31, Brussels. Open 12.00-14.30 and 18.00-23.30