A stone's throw from the Brussels Grand Place , the "rich theatre" to borrow a phrase from Jean Cocteau, is the Ilot Sacré. At the heart of this neighbourhood, the Léon restaurant, temple of mussels and chips, has been in existence for more than 100 years. It invokes the idea of la Belgique Joyeuse , [joyful Belgium ] and represents one of the flowers of our national gastronomy. Home of excellent Brussels cuisine, this restaurant has managed to gain the sympathy of the general public and can satisfy the standards of the greatest gourmet. Simplicity, a warm welcome and a picturesque atmosphere are all used to convince the customer of its worth.
There have always been funny Brussels ketjes [local types] not only Manneken-Pis. Léon Vanlancker was one of those. When he opened his first restaurant in 1867, simplicity and a picturesque atmosphere were already present. Twenty-five years later, Léon moved a few blocks to the rue des Bouchers. There he opened a typical café with about five tables which carried his name - “Friture Léon”.
Over the years, the inhabitants of Brussels , travellers and those just passing through increased in number. Léon expanded. The dishes were often served at local festivals.
The years passed and Léon became, at the very heart of the Ilôt Sacré in Brussels , as famous as Manneken-Pis. From noon to midnight , customers were served in an atmosphere of good humour and simplicity. Every day, more than one thousand meals are served with a smile. The tablecloths are made of paper, the service is snappy, the kitchen looks out directly onto the dining area and everyone enjoys their meal in the best of humour.
There are many anecdotes about this popular restaurant which for more than 110 years has welcomed many personalities from the world of politics, culture or finance. The Golden Book has thousands of dedications including the signatures of Johnny Hallyday, Jacques Brel, Eddy Merckx, Annie Cordy, former American President Jimmy Carter, Helmut Kohl, Jean-Jacques Goldman, Sacha Guitry, Catherine Deneuve, the Belgian Royal Family, many Belgian politicians and nowadays officials from the European institutions.
They all come to taste one of 14 home-made mussel dishes. There are also lobster, fish and meat dishes. However, the real fans have a predilection for the “Moule Spéciale”, made from a secret mussel casserole recipe, served with French fries and washed down with Belgian beer. The high quality of the ingredients, quick service and a warm welcome are the reason that this establishment has been so successful.
In 1989, flushed with the success of his Brussels enterprise, Rudy Vanlancker decided to export his flagship restaurant to Paris .
Exporting the Léon concept is to export not only a product but also and especially to communicate an atmosphere with a reference to the great Jacques Brel who sang: “.... Puis on ira manger des moules et puis des frites, des frites et puis des moules et du vin de Moselle, Viens Jeff.... Viens ...." [And then we'll eat mussels and chips, and chips and mussels, and drink Moselle wine. Come on Jef, come on]
During this period in Brussels , there was a genuine return to its origins by reverting to the original name “Friture Léon”. The dining rooms and the kitchen were also given a complete facelift by maintaining its appearance in 1893.