There are more winebars than roadworks in Brussels at the moment, and believe me, it is difficult to believe such a thing would be possible. They are in the process of reconstructing the junction 200 yards down the road from me for the third time this year and once more Square Marlow looks like Lagos in the mid-1980s, but with fewer guns (I hope, it is hard to tell). When I try and drive – something I avoid, as a public health measure – I find myself wheeling around hopelessly, trying to work out where the road is supposed to be, and where the supermarket has gone, observed by officious police officers (the station is in the midsts of the chaos, so they are keen for distraction) and tram drivers wild eyed with blood lust. It is no wonder I need a restorative drink from time to time.
Caffè al Dente, however, is not like most Brussels wine bars. It is not run by spindly, bearded men in checked shirts or angry bearded hobos who ignore you because they are busy comparing tattoos with their friends and then finally deign to serve you snacks IN TINS, or plates of slightly rancid cheese for €26. It is not resolutely “undairegroond“, without a phone, or signage. Caffè al Dente is proper, and it is good. It is also my local, so if you go, be nice. It is in the heart of sleepy Uccle, where a sighting of a strange dog can make headlines, and when we find somewhere we like in sleepy Uccle, we stick to it fanatically. Caffè al Dente is on the Parvis St Pierre, which is about as happening as Uccle gets: a pretty square, like something from a French market town, a couple of decent shops, an excellent traditional brasserie (Le Petit Pont) and a tiny organic market on Sundays. It is like a fantasy of small town living in the middle of a city, but being Belgium, obviously there are more wandering lunatics and the like.
Originally there was (and still is) a good, serious Italian restaurant that had been there for 15 years, and then the owners Michele and Lakhdar – one bearded and jolly, like an Italian Santa, one slightly byronic looking but friendly – decided to expand, into the pretty 1930s former bakery and gelato parlour next door. I am very glad they did. At the front there is a nice deli, which sells salumeria type stuff, cheeses and prettily packaged Italian loveliness (also a demon pannetone at Christmas) then at the back is the Enoteca, which I believe means “drink cheap but delicious wine until you fall over” in Italian. The enoteca has all the good stuff: cheap but delicious wine, charcuterie from happy pigs, enormous plates of pasta (their aglio olio e peperoncino makes you remember how damn good something ridiculously simple can be). You can get a good meltingly soft burrata, a plate of jewel bright veggie antipasti, rocket fuel coffee and a tiramisu that will ease you gently into a diabetic coma. You can buy wine too and no one will make you feel like an idiot if you ask for “a nice cheap one”. They have something like TWELVE Proseccos. How could you not love a place with a choice of twelve Proseccos?
At lunch, there’s a €14,90 menu – a glass of wine or half bottle of water, something tasty on a crostini, then a giant plate of pasta – and in the evenings it’s aperitifs: an Aperol spritz you’d sell your soul for, good wine, and a constant procession of FREE SNACKS. Did you see that? I said FREE SNACKS. Sometimes there are special events: wine tastings, pasta evenings: check their website for details.
Caffé al Dente, Rue du Doyenné 85-87, 02 345 45 23, caffealdente.com