Restaurant Essenciel is a cosy and small gastronomic restaurant located in Leuven, Belgium’s number one student city. The city is famous for the ‘longest bar counter in the world’ and its beautiful city centre. The gastronomic scene of the city has been rapidly developing over the past few years and restaurant Essenciel is one of the remarkable newcomers.
Restaurant Essenciel is located in ‘de Muntstraat’ in the centre of the city, the most famous culinary street of Leuven. This small street is crowded with restaurants, from gourmet burger joints, to sushi places, Italian restaurants, Belgian brasseries, and much more. Essenciel is, together with Trente (which is located just in front of the restaurant), the most gastronomic option of the area. It is housed in a small townhouse, squeezed in between other restaurants. The restaurant opened in 2014 and the interior was already renovated in 2016. Today it is contemporary,
incorporating lots of wood and dark accents. The white linen was removed and diners enjoy their meal served on the wooden tables. The open kitchen is located at the back of the restaurant and is impressively small as well. The restaurant seats up to 24 guests.
Chef Patron Niels Brants and his girlfriend Romina Charels are managing restaurant Essenciel. The young duo worked together at the famous restaurant Nuance (from Chef-patron Thierry Theys), where Niels was sous-chef during two years. At a very young age the couple decided to live their dream and opened up their own restaurant, Essenciel. Right from the start the restaurant created gastronomic waves and the couple quickly earned respect from the culinary world. Niels is obviously carrying the signature of restaurant Nuance, but manages to give his own creative touch to his dishes. His kitchen can be described as a highly labour-intensive, precise, complex and flavour-driven cuisine. He uses lots of different structures to keep the mouthfeel exciting, and integrates creamy elements to add power. Presentation is important and flowers, fresh herbs, colours and different shapes are added to beautify the dishes. In the kitchen, Niels is assisted by sous-chef Jens Németh.
At restaurant Essenciel, guests choose the ‘Essence’ menu (four to six courses) or dishes à la carte. A lunch menu (three courses) is also available. Seasonal produce forms the basis, and beautiful ingredients such as goose liver, langoustine, high quality beef or coquilles are often on the menu. A big and juicy langoustine is served as starter, combined with green asparagus, morels and a fresh herb salad. A second starter brings shortly baked goose liver, served with yellow beets, a passion fruit gel and a foam of mushrooms. A ‘foie gras’ crisp is served on the side. With the dessert ‘Guns and roses’ the chef demonstrates his creativity: a ‘gun’ of rose is combined with vanilla and lychee, a ball of hibiscus and ice of coconut and rose.
Romina Charels is in charge of the dining rooms and serves the guests with a youthful and professional enthusiasm. She is assisted by sommelier Bram Moens, who creates a delicate and very pleasant wine pairing to go with the chef his dishes. It is truly impressive that a team of only four people (two in the kitchen, two in the dining room) delivers a gastronomic experience of this quality.
Restaurant Essenciel is an essential reservation in the city of Leuven. The beautiful and artistic dishes from chef Niels, bursting with flavour, and the pleasant laid-back atmosphere make this a place you will definitely want to return to.
Written by Sven & Frank