On Friday under a gloweringly grey Brussels ‘summer’ sky I joined 21 others to dangle off a giant crane at 50 metres altitude on the Mont des Arts to eat Michelin starred food whilst tightly strapped to a table, at the incredibly kind invitation of American Express for Dinner in the Sky.
I can’t pretend I wasn’t a tiny bit apprehensive. I am not totally cool with heights. Actually, I’m not cool with heights at all: I get sick on the swings in the children’s playground. The last time we tried to walk up the Eiffel Tower I had to lie down on the second floor with my eyes shut for five minutes and that’s an actual solid structure, whereas Dinner in the Sky is distinctly .. wobbly. Especially with a bracing June wind. But the chance to eat Yves Mattagne (Sea Grill) and Pierre Wynants (Comme Chez Soi) food (Wynants is actually retired, so this truly was a rare opportunity)? With an incredible birds-eye view of Brussels? I manned up and, after a restorative glass of champagne, got strapped in.
This is Ariane, who invited me. She was not totally cool with heights either. Most people were a bit .. apprehensive.
You really do get strapped in with a double seatbelt type arrangement, then after a brief safety announcement (“be careful not to drop anything”) and watched by a small crowd of curious tourists, the giant orange crane starts hoisting you slowly upwards, upwards, upwards…. to fifty metres above the Mont des Arts. Yikes.
See what I mean about the sky?
It’s windy up there, I can tell you and the table revolves gently to give you an incredible – and slightly terrifying – panoramic view of Brussels: the Grand’Place, the Atomium, the Koekelberg basilica. For the first half hour I had my – regularly replenished – wine glass tightly gripped in one hand and my gaze firmly fixed on the horizon. The chefs, however, seemed totally relaxed and put us all at ease, laughing and joking and chatting happily about what they were preparing.
Yves Mattagne (on the left) even broke into a little dance at one point. Respect. These chefs are HARDCORE. Maybe dangling from a giant crane in a harness holds no fear when you’ve faced the Michelin inspectors?
A very jolly Pierre Wynants
Gradually, we got used to the swaying motion (the crane came down to around 25 metres to get out of the wind), I relaxed my clawlike grip on my wine glass and my natural greed took over. I’m delighted it did, because the food was wonderful: light (I guess that’s wise in the circumstances), fresh and summery, lots of Asian influences, gloriously presented. A couple of highlights:
This beautiful creation is razor clams with a delicate smoked eel mousse. Look at those vivid edible red leaves!
A wonderfully thin foie gras raviolo with a delicate Japanese broth of wakame and yuzu. Umami-tastic. I could happily just drink that broth every day. Note the gilded enoki mushroom on the top of that. Amazing.
I think this seabass was my favourite: a perfect piece of fish with incredible seasoning: lemongrass, galangal, coconut milk and surprising little bursts of citrus infused oil. I didn’t lick my plate (un peu de tenue quand même), but I was verrry tempted.
The whole meal took about an hour and half, and towards the end, the sun even made a brief appearance and we all plucked up the courage (yes, the excellent wines probably had something to do with that) to look down at the gardens and give the curious tourists a quick wave. The braver souls even tipped their right chairs back. I am not a braver soul.
I wonder what Albert I makes of it all? I bet he’s jealous.
Huge thanks to the lovely people at Amex for the invite: it was such a special thing to do and I really can’t recommend it enough: even if you think heights aren’t your thing, you might be surprised..
Dinner in the Sky runs until June 30th and there are still some spaces available…