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Mille et une nuits

One of the many advantages to having friends who live close to the parvis in Brussels’ hip Sint-Gilles neighbourhood is they know about restaurants like this one.

Upon entering Mille et une nuits on a nippy Friday evening, our group is met with a waft of heavy warm air and a room so dark it takes the eyes a moment to adjust.

We are inside the luxury version of a Berber tent, or so it seems. The low ceiling is one big billowy tapestry adorned with rows of twinkly lights, and everywhere are hanging lanterns and brilliant colours. A décor this kitschy can only be intentional, which makes sense with a name like One Thousand and One Nights, referring to the famous collection of stories from ancient Persian and North African folklore.

The friendly server motions our party of four to a cosy corner table by the window, granting three of us choice spots on the cushiony bench. We’re seated at a low table that is actually one big round brass platter, intricately engraved, with a candle in the middle. We feel like Arabian royalty in such lush surroundings and promptly order a bottle of red wine, a Tunisian Chateau Mornag, our server’s spot-on suggestion.

We’re all in the mood for couscous, and within no time there is a giant bowl of the fluffy steamed semolina on the table. An even larger bowlful of vegetable stew arrives at the same time, steaming hot and smelling of tomato and spice. Three types of grilled meat fulfil our carnivorous craving in the form of spicy merguez sausages and lamb and beef brochettes.

Our server was so kind as to suggest the proper cooking for the brochettes: medium rosy for the lamb, medium rare for the beef. Once again, her advice is on target. The hunks of beef and lamb have a tasty grilled flavour and juicy centre. But the merguez, we all agree, goes best with the meal for all its sweet, cinnamony and paprika-infused flavour. A ladle of the veggie stew’s savoury broth gets soaked right up by the couscous, making it swell under tender pieces of celery, carrot, courgette and chickpeas.

When every plate is scraped clean, we contemplate finishing off with a pot of mint tea. But then someone spots an interesting dessert on the menu, and we decide to order that with a round of espressos. The Mosaïque de Pâtisseries tunisienne is an assortment of Tunisian pastries. Each one has a soft, delicate crust encasing any combination of nuts and honey, including roasted almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts and pistachios. They’re sweet, but not overly so, and an absolute joy to eat.

After polishing off the pastries, we stick around for another hour or so. This is the kind of place you simply don’t want to leave. And at €30 per person, we can afford to order another round of drinks.

7 rue de Moscou, 1060 Brussels, tel 02.537.41.27;

This article first appeared in Flanders Today