With so many expats from the UK residing in Brussels, there has always been an outcry for delicious fried fish, which has largely gone unheard – until now. With the opening of Bia Mara, Brussels, fans of fish and chips in Brussels, can rejoice and sleep easy, knowing their choice is sustainable too.
Growing up on the Atlantic coast of Canada, Andrew and I are no strangers to excellent seafood, and fish and chips were always a tasty, if not so healthy, treat, growing up. We often observed, a natural addition to the excellent Belgian frites, would be some nicely battered fried fish.
So when I heard about a new restaurant in Brussels, specialising in high-quality, sustainable fish and chips, it immediately went on my list of places to try. Last weekend we visited Bia Mara and it exceeded our expectations.
The little restaurant is conveniently located a block from the De Brouckere metro station, just off of Anspach. A bright blue sign led us into a long, narrow, space, with a funky, industrial atmosphere. Bia Mara was bustling, which is a good indication of quality in Brussels, as it has been open less than a month.
We poured over the menu, having a difficult time deciding from all of the delicious sounding options. Bia Mara offers a €10 formula that includes a choice of fish, chicken or vegetarian main, one of their homemade sauces and one special salt and spice mixture for the chips. They all sounded mouth-watering.
[Sadly, the photos aren’t up to our usual standard as it was a spur of the moment visit and we only had Andrew’s phone to take photos. We just couldn’t wait to share Bia Mara with you. We will get back and photograph it properly, promise!]
In the end, Andrew opted to keep things traditional by ordering the haddock in panko breadcrumbs, with tartar sauce and balsamic and red onion salt.
I was seriously tempted by the salmon in curry tempura, but my love of all things spicy made me choose the piri piri buttermilk chicken, with chipotle sauce and garlic and chilli salt.
As you can probably guess, this is no ordinary greasy fish and chip shop. The chef has worked in Michelin starred establishments across Europe, and he’s dishing up innovative and quality dishes. I can’t wait to try the Cajun Pollock and the garlic truffle, curry lime and smoked chilli dipping sauces sound divine. Bia Mara’s daily specials commonly sell out before day’s end and with the creativity of their regular menu, it’s easy to see why.
We took a seat as we waited for our meal to be delivered. As we looked around, we saw lots of seriously happy-looking customers. We also saw the owner and his staff interacting with the diners making sure everything was to their liking – a great thing to see in a new business.
Our food arrived promptly in cardboard boxes and we were supplied with biodegradable, disposable cutlery. We were told by owner Barry Wallace later, he prefers to keep costs low on packaging so he can focus on buying the best fresh and sustainable ingredients he can get his hands on. That choice definitely shone through in the food.
My chicken had a delicious spicy, crispy coating but was moist and juicy inside. Andrew’s fish had a great crunchy exterior, but again was light and flaky beneath the crust. We both had a small mountain of thick cut potato wedges hiding under our meat. The spiced salts were subtle but the dipping sauces added a great kick.
So what was our overall review of Bia Mara? We loved it! It shares many of the things we love about two of our other favourite small restaurants in Brussels, HopDog and Britxos. We get really excited to see small businesses whose owners are passionate about their ingredients. That attention to detail comes through in the food. Bia Mara is proof food can be fun and delicious while still being sustainable and affordable. What more could we ask for?
Bia Mara Urban Seafood Kitchen
Rue du Marché aux Poulets 41,
For more great restaurants in Belgium and beyond, check out our Restaurant Review page.