Bia Mara, meaning seafood in Irish, is a small sustainable fish and chips restaurant located in Brussels, Belgium. The focus here is on quality, uncommon in central Brussels, where expensive, low-quality restaurants catered to tourists are typical.
The restaurant, owned by two Irishmen, differs from your typical fish and chips shop in London or Dublin. Fish here is fresh, with availability changing daily, whether cod, ling, salmon, or halibut. You will only find it on the menu if it’s fresh. Once you decide on a fish, you can have it tossed in panko breadcrumbs or tempura batter.
Today, Bia Mara has four locations in Belgium, including two in Brussels, one in Antwerp, and one in Leuven. On my trip to Belgium, I visited their location in central Brussels, located only steps away from the Grand Palace
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Interior of Bia Mara
The dining room at Bia Mara was open yet small, with just enough room for a handful of tables. The decor was minimalist, with an industrial feeling with concrete walls and exposed pipes. The concrete walls were bare except for a few small murals painted on them. Even though the room was small, it was bright thanks to many hanging lights.
On my visit, with the inside dining room full, I decided to grab a seat at a table on the outdoor patio. While the outdoor tables were flimsy, I enjoyed people-watching while drinking a cold beer, which happened to be a Belgian Jambe-de-Bois, a local beer from Brussels.
Bia Mara Menu
While you will find many options on the menu at Bia Mara, what you want to try here is the fish and chips.
What makes Bia Mara so great is how they source their fish. All of their fish is fresh and responsibly sourced. Sustainability is important to them, and they try their best to diversify the types of fish they use.
The catch of the day changes based on what is fresh and what is available. On my visit, they had ling, coalfish, and pollock. On your visit, these options might be different. You can find the catch of the day by asking your server or on the board posted at the front of the restaurant.
After choosing the type of fish, you can have it prepared in panko breadcrumbs or in tempura batter. The two favorites of the house were the Classic Panko and Lemon Basil Tempura. They also offered monthly specials, so be sure to ask on your visit.
Each order came with one homemade sauce. Extra sauces were 1.5 EUR or about $1.62 for one or 5 EUR or about $5.40 for a mix of sauces. Options included your typical tartar sauce along with more unique sauces such as Garlic Truffle and Patatas Bravas, a spiced cayenne pepper in tomato sauce.
If fish isn’t your thing, the menu featured limited chicken, seafood, and vegetarian options and sides. They also had tacos for lunch midweek and burgers for dinner everyday but Sunday.
As for drinks, you had an assortment of local craft beers, wine, cocktails, water, and homemade lemonade and ice tea.
While the menu had many great options, I settled on the Classic Panko with Ling (16 EUR or about $17.29).
The first thing that caught my attention was the breading on the fish. A great piece of fish and chips should have crispy breading on the outside with flaky, moist fish on the inside. At first glance, the breading looked pale and thin. I was hoping it would taste better than it looked. While thin, the simple breading was just crispy enough. But I would have preferred for it to have been crispier.
As this was my first time trying ling, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My server reassured me that ling was similar to cod in taste and texture. The flavor did remind me of cod, but the ling had a distinct fishy flavor. I expected the fish to be flaky, but this wasn’t the case. The cook of the ling was inconsistent. Half of the fish was moist, while the other half was overcooked, resulting in a chewy, almost rubbery texture that was hard to cut through.
To make matters worse, the fish was watery, like when I cook with previously frozen seafood. With this extra moisture, the already thin breading started to disintegrate. And, the remaining breading turned soggy. Unfortunately, this piece of ling was a big letdown in flavor and execution.
Served along with the fish was a generous portion of seaweed-salted chips. Just as with the breading of the fish, I wanted the chips to be crispier. And, just as with the fish, the chips were cooked inconsistently. Some of the chips were crispy, while other pieces were soggy. On a positive note, the well-seasoned chips tasted fresh cut and were tender and steamy on the inside.
Served on the side was a homemade tartar sauce. This was not your typical tartar sauce. While it was thick and creamy, it was not as salty or crunchy as expected. The sauce had a hint of sweetness to it, which was unique.
Along with the tartar sauce, I ordered an extra sauce, the Jalapeno & Lime (1.5 EUR or $1.62). This creamy sauce was packed with much more flavor than the tartar sauce. The sauce had a distinct smoky jalapeño flavor and a hint of tartness from lime juice. Even better, the jalapeños added a kick of heat without being too spicy.
The service at Bia Mara was fantastic. My server was friendly and helped me with recommendations from the menu. The staff was attentive for such a busy night, and my food arrived promptly.
After reading all the great reviews about Bia Mara, I was surprised by my experience. While I was disappointed with the food on my visit, maybe the chefs at Bia Mara were having a bad night. There was much potential with the food, just a lack of execution for one reason or another. On my next visit to Brussels, I would give Bia Mara and their fish and chips another try before writing them off.
- Fresh, sustainable fish
- Assortment of dipping sauces
- Breading could have been crispier
- Cooking of the fish and chips was inconsistent
Monday-Thursday: 12:00PM-2:30PM and 6:00PM-9:30PM
Friday: 12:00PM-2:30PM and 6:00PM-10:00PM
Rue du Marche aux Poulets 41, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
GPS Coordinates: 50.848645,4.350754
Last Updated on August 28, 2023