Belgian resto chain fights back from pandemic blues – by expanding!

Belgian resto chain fights back from pandemic blues – by expanding!

Fed up after two years of the pandemic? If so, no-one could blame you but, fortunately, there’s a spot of brighter news on the horeca front.

At least one restaurant owner here is bucking an all-too-familiar trend which has seen one restaurant after another fall victim to the health crisis.

Thai Café is actually expanding (yes,expanding!) by opening at least two new restaurants. These include, for the first time, a resto at the Belgian coast (Knokke) plus one in Mechelen, just north of Brussels.

Currently, there are 15 Thai Café restaurants and, at each, you will find the same décor (lots of red and black) and interior.

It’s perhaps best described as casual chic with a minimalist approach. Specifically, everyone has the same type of (wooden) tables and chairs, similar (discreet) lighting plus standardised colour scheme. The well-stocked bar is usually front and centre

It’s a cross between the informal and formal with the overall aim being to draw the customer into a relaxed and relatively laid back atmosphere while at the same time looking forward to some rather very tasty Asian cuisine.

Diners might be forgiven for thinking that, irrespective of the actual venue, they walk out knowing they’ve been to a Thai Café (the same might be said of McDonalds but, remember, this is a rather higher class of food. But, a bit like the burger chain, you always know what you can expect at Thai Café.

“Good food, served fairly quickly and at very reasonable prices”.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, that’s not the case here because Thai Café ticks each of these boxes and that, arguably, best sums up what they are trying to do.

It really is genuine, authentic Thai food, invariably cooked by Thai-born personnel in the kitchen, which is presented without unnecessary fuss and, yes, at prices that won’t break the bank.

The “chain” started about 20 years ago (first was at Ma Campagne in Ixelles) and they are still mostly in Brussels, with three in Wallonia (Nivelles, Genval and Waterloo). Currently, there’s just one in Flanders at Alsemberg but this will rise to three with the new openings.

As the name suggests, it’s also a café so you’re perfectly welcome if you just to sit and have a drink (maybe a Singha Thai beer?).

As ever, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and, on that score, you won’t be disappointed.

The menu (currently, accessible via your smartphone) is quite something in itself, not least because of the sheer choice. According to south Vietnam-born Kevin, manager of the 80-seat Waterloo “branch”, the biggest customer fave is Pad Thai, normally served as street food in Thailand.

Kevin, who has spent two years at Thai Café, admits that the crisis has actually proved good news for business as it did a roaring trade on takeaways at a time when many local restos were shut.

There are seven different types of Pad Thai on the menu, with a choice of pork, beef or chicken. But, if that’s not necessarily your thing, you’ll be spoilt for choice trying to decide an alternative from some terrific curries (a recommendation is the shared one, with 4 different curries); grilled dishes, fish or salads. Why not round it all off with a classic Thai desert such as Mango sticky rice or an equally mouth watering Jasmin cake.

Also worth noting is the environmentally-friendly “kio box” which involves diners being charged a refundable €2 for a plastic box should they wish to take any leftover food home. You get the cash back if you return the box which is then recycled.

Some of the Thai Cafes, such as the one in Waterloo, also offer a takeaway service.

The Waterloo branch opened six years ago and opens noon to 11pm.Like all the others, is a great place for some great Thai food.

Thai Café, 208 Chaussee de Bruxelles, Waterloo

02 888 8080

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