Saturday, 30 May 2015

In praise of NH Hotels' Grand Sablon, Brussels...

Perhaps I’m easily impressed, but give me a canopy and a few flags out front and I’m half way to being convinced that I’m staying in a decent hotel. And for once it’s the truth – although, to be fair, most of the hotels I stay in are fine it's just that, after staying in two Best Westerns in Brussels – which were fine, don’t get me wrong – at last I’ve found a decent hotel with a restaurant. I know there are loads of decent hotels in the European Union capital with restaurants, that’s not the point, it’s just that, up until now, the hotels I’ve used on trips to this great city – Best Western Royal Centre and City Centre – have forced me to walk the streets at night in search of food (and I've not found anything brilliant).

I’m staying at the NH Hotels Grand Sablon, which is about 25 minutes on foot from Brussels Midi railway station if you use your smart phone’s GPS as I did and save the money (about 10-15 Euros) that would have been spent on a taxi.
Not a great view from room 334, but the hotel and room was terrific

First impressions do count. I’ve mentioned the canopy and the flags – always a good sign – but then there’s the grandiose entrance lobby, the polite staff on the front desk, free WiFi, free fruit juices waiting for thirsty customers opposite the front desk, polished floors, a business centre and all before I reach the room.

I take the lift to the third floor and room 334, a short walk from the elevator. It’s a very pleasant room with two single beds pushed together, a full minibar and proper coat hangers in a glass-doored wardrobe that is all part of one unit of furniture against the wall opposite the window. There’s not much of a view, but it doesn’t really matter as this is a good room with an easy chair, a decent flat-screen television on the wall opposite the bed and a decent bathroom with relatively subtle lighting compared to the usual floodlit affair. In fact, the one problem I did have throughout my sadly brief stay at the Grand Sablon was the shower. It was complicated. There were two options: a hand-held ‘rain shower’ or the wall-mounted conventional system. Both involved a lot of faffing about in terms of getting the temperature right – which proved impossible – and I had to endure a lukewarm shower, the alternative being scorching hot.

It was complicated, believe me...
Everything else about this hotel was amazing and I began to wish I was staying longer than just one night at this friendly, comfortable establishment. The best bit, however, was yet to come. While there were restaurants and bars a short walk from the Grand Sablon, none of them really appealed and I hate having the thought of walking back to the hotel after dinner hanging over me as I eat. So I dined in the hotel restaurant, a space part table-clothed for dinner with other tables showing bare wood. A redundant servery area indicated that the restaurant doubled as the breakfast room.

I took a seat by the window and met Emanuele the waiter – a proper waiter, I hasten to add, nothing half-hearted, this guy knew his stuff. I was on the verge of considering wine but, he informed me that in Belgium they drink beer and eat chocolate and I’d be missing out if I didn’t do the same. He was right. I ordered a La Chouffe with my starter and main course – soup followed by chicken – and then a Trappist Westmalle with my Belgian cheeses, the latter suggested by Emanuele. I was going to order pannacota, but he said I’d be missing out and he was right.

Emanuele was the star of the show? Why? Because of his passion for the job, his knowledge of the menu, his ability to capture the imagination of his customers and make them feel centre stage. I only wish I’d had another night so that I could enjoy the culinary experience and his excellent service all over again. The food was good, by the way, nothing heavy, just simple food and, best of all, there was no need to walk back from anywhere – just a short amble to the elevator and I was back in my room.

Yes, I know, it's a mess, but I was checking out.
On the way out of the restaurant Emanuele handed me a card inviting me to say something nice about the food, drink and service if I was considering a review for Trip Advisor. Slightly presumptuous, perhaps, but he needn’t have bothered asking as I had been writing this review in my head from the moment I’d taken my seat at the table. Good waiters are rare. The last one I remember was in an Italian restaurant in Geneva, near the main railway station, a couple of years ago, so Emanuele gets top marks from this reviewer.

Check-in and check-out were straightforward and this place comes highly recommended from me to you.

NH Hotels, incidentally, have 379 hotels in 29 countries. Click here for more.

This review is also on Trip Advisor and you will find a mention of NH Hotels in my recent post on Amsterdam, click here.

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