BRUSSELS Not waiting at home for Santa Claus, gourmets in Brussels are flying off aboard his sleigh to dine with him above the city's rooftops and twinkling Christmas lights.
"Santa in the Sky" is a novel twist on the Belgian capital's "Dinner in the Sky" venture, where diners and the chefs cooking for them are lifted high in the air on an open platform suspended from a construction crane.
This weekend on the city's chic Sablon square shopping district, a bell-ringing Santa Claus is welcoming people aboard the "restaurant" fitted out as a sleigh decked with lights and drawn through the air by four theater-prop reindeer.
Diners, who sit strapped to chairs to eat at a bar running round the open kitchen, can pay up to 250 euros ($265) for a gastronomic four-course supper with wine, or go for options starting at 55 euros for tea -- of course, it's "high tea".
Free to marvel at Brussels' Flemish Renaissance grandeur and mediaeval churches, customers can savor haute cuisine from distinguished chefs, some with Michelin stars to their name.
On Friday evening, Maxime Mazier's menu included a lobster and artichoke starter, line-caught sea bass with shellfish and coconut marshmallow with mango. The trick, he said, was coping with the gusts of winter night air that whip around the sleigh.
"It's not that warm," he said. "Just as you're serving, if the wind gets up, for the fish, which has to be served just right, it's the timing that's important."
Michael Chiche, who helps run the Brussels-based firm that over the past 10 years has brought the sky-dining experience to 58 countries, said he was confident the four-day Christmas event which ends on Sunday, would be repeated next year.
"To be in the air, first, it's the view," he said. "Secondly, you're blocked. It means that you are with your guests, you are with the chef and all the flavors, everything, you're going to experience it completely differently."
Helene Ziegler, 19, an art history student, said it had been worth a moment of panic: "As we were on the way up, I got a bit scared. It was moving. But once on top, it became very quiet.
"It's great to see the entire city. The food is very good. The chefs prepare it in front of us. It's wonderful."
The evening, she said, was a gift to her and her sister from their father -- though he found a convenient excuse not to join them 100 feet (35 meters) above the cold cobbles of the Sablon.
(Additional reporting by Hortense de Roffignac; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)