Parisian-born Thierry Leterre has lived in Luxembourg for the better part of a decade. Like any good frenchman, his discerning palate seeks the best culinary experiences, not discriminating on style, price or atmosphere. In Wonderfilled Volume Four he gave us a thorough introduction into Luxembourg's culinary traditions and today, he's expanding his study to the international flavors that mingle in Luxembourg's most international city.
Food wise, Luxembourg City is a window opened to the world, with restaurants usually featuring a few local innocuous dishes to accommodate less ambitious guests. The world, in this case, begins where food habits stop: as regular Luxembourgish food rests heavily on meat—potatoes and beans being much of what is to be found in the tradition in terms of vegetables—vegetarian food is right away exotic, hence the precious Mesa Verde, its comfortable ambience and its amicable service. The vegetarian and pescatarian menu features a vegetarian couscous that is a masterpiece (if you do not know what a couscous is, let’s just stay that it is not what Americans consider couscous, which is just as an ingredient—it's kind of like referring to the hamburger as the bun of the sandwich).
A quick world tour of Luxembourg City would take us in America with a couple places for Tex/Mex, such as Mamacita and a Chi-Chi’s that will surprise Americans since the brand has disappeared in the U.S. and only exists as a franchise in a few international locations. Service is efficient and margaritas large. We also find fine addresses for Brazilian cuisine with Batucada, not far from the Cathedral, and Maria Bonita in the area of Clausen, off the Grund—Clausen being one of the top locations to go out in Luxembourg City. Batucada serves a sophisticated cuisine while Maria Bonita favors all-you-can-eat formula, a not so common option in Luxembourg City.
Mediterranean cuisine is well represented in Luxembourg City with Le Grec (The Greek) which plainly advertises what it is: an authentic place for Greek food, while further down Solana offers a Spanish fare, with spectacular paellas including a sea food paella cooked in the ink of the squid. Both restaurants are located in the Bonnevoie area, behind the train station.
Speaking of Mediterranean, two cuisines must be set apart because of their specific ties to the country via waves of immigrants: Italian and Portuguese. The latter still caters to the working class and even a very good address such as Chez Bacano, despite its grandiose Scampi flambés (shrimp sautéed in alcohol and olive oil) and a slightly expensive menu, sticks to the blandest 1970’s café style, with a TV yelling in Portuguese and Formica tables.
At the exact opposite, Italian cuisine has multiple quarters of nobility in Luxembourg City. Mosconi in the Grund is even a Michelin starred restaurant. Personally, despite the exceptional quality of the food, I found the service far too cold—an unforgivable confusion in a high end address when rigor is mixed up with condescendence: and yes, at that price tag, God forbids friendly best pal attendants types. By the same token, one does request not to be looked down for having committed the sin of not being a regular. For this reason, I prefer an old respectable address La Voglia Matta, on the main avenue leading to the Train station with its specialty of pasta. Of course, those who think that “Italian cuisine” means “pizza” will be disappointed in both cases.
Switching scenes, Asian food is also easy to find, though as is generally the case on the continent, Chinese cuisine is often banal—not bad, but nothing special. Nonetheless, the Palais de Chine, next to the Gastronomic Island, enjoys an excellent reputation despite a relatively pricy menu. Another point of contention is the question of sushi. Like everywhere, sushi is trendy in Luxembourg and quite a many restaurants offer Japanese food. Like everywhere also, the quality of sushi is a matter of heated debates. Though landlocked, Luxembourg has fresh fish thanks to excellent logistical chains. So the basic material is there. Is it a recipe for success? None really agrees. Let’s simply say that Aka, in the heart of the City, on the floor just above the municipal Cultural Center does a good job with its sushi train. Alas! Service is random—ranging from very nice to completely uncouth.
More peaceful is the appraisal of Thai food in Luxembourg City, with quality options, to be found in nice little snacks or cafés such as the Sawasdee Thaï Café in Bonnevoie or Ukulele in Clausen, which, despite its name is a fine place for Thai. Décor is not necessarily fancy, but food is good, and adapted for the best to the Western palate—i.e. with spice options that do not set you on fire. For Vietnamese, Thanh’s, in the Ville Haute, is a small place where the Pho soup is commendable. For Indian food, the Ville Haute has some serious options, the Marahaja being a nice place (often crowded) with a lunch buffet worth checking. Its stern service sometimes puts off customers, and dishes are sometimes heavy on spices—by Western standards at least. However the true gem of Indian cuisine is Sherpa, in the south of the Hollerich area, a neatly decorated place which mixes with success Indian with the rarer Nepalese and Tibetan cuisines. Next door, the Holli Café-Brasserie is a nice joint to have a drink before going to the restaurant. Nothing remarkable, except its traditional atmosphere, the regulars—and their friendliness toward non-regulars.
Thierry Leterre is the Dean of the Miami University Dolibois European Center based in Differdange, Luxembourg.