Under an hour from the Belgian border, Lille reflects its Flemish neighbors through culture and cuisine. It’s a global hub, in part due to its geo-locale but also for a notable contingent of international students. Named European Capital of Culture in 2004, it now has a TGV line that has made the major northern city more easily accessible. This lively student town boasts all the charming details of Belgian and French architecture as well as the cuisine important to both countries. A strong microbrew culture is also of note—be sure to ask about the artisanal beers at these locally loved restaurants.
Big Mama Group, which has taken Paris by storm with its authentically Italian bistro flair, recently opened a restaurant in Lille. La Bellezza, as its name would suggest, doesn’t sacrifice décor to focus on its homemade dishes, which include both locally sourced ingredients and Italian imports. Try the pasta and the tiramisu. The cocktails are a hit amongst the locals, too. Big Mama restaurants are known for their friendly ambiance. From the chefs in the open kitchen to the bar staff—they’ll put on a show for you. Watch this video to catch the behind-the-scenes vibe that Big Mama restaurants are known for.
This Flanders-inspired restaurant puts a blind trust in nature’s ingredients as well as its suppliers, so much so that they even call their evening prix fixe les yeux fermés, which literally means “eyes closed.” And that faith in what nature brings has given chef Florent Ladeyn quite a bit of notoriety. Top Chef finalist in 2013, his loss certainly didn’t slow him down. He opened Le Bloempot and also won a Michelin star for his family restaurant Auberge du Vert Mont in a commune just outside of Lille. Both restaurants are truly a locavore’s delight.
Steven Ramon is yet another Top Chef star who may not have won, but certainly succeeded in the long run when he opened his restaurant in Lille. He’s a self-professed hard worker, who understands what it takes to create a truly pleasurable meal. His local pride is clear—he refuses to leave his home in the northern countryside, has spent a lot of time working on local farms, and is excited at the chance to elevate the image of Lillois cuisine.
After significant training under chefs Benoit Bernard and Steven Ramon, Chef Nicolas Choquet opened his first restaurant earlier this year, and has received numerous accolades. His partner in crime is his wife Stephanie, who crafts the wine menu, and is responsible for the excellent service reviews, as she runs the front of the house. Seasonal organic ingredients make up the menu, which changes every two weeks. Every one of Choquet’s plates makes for a colorful, rustic arrangement.
This hotspot is known for guilt-free gluttony in total transparency, figuratively and literally: their windowed storeroom displays aged meats, charcuterie, cheeses, and an excellent local and exotic beer selection. This restaurant is for open-minded folks, looking for all that’s fun and feisty. Just read how the restaurant describes itself: “Babe is like your lover—rough and seductive.”