Daphne Wayne-Bough munches her way around the chocolatiers of Brussels and beyond – with a few surprises along the route
You turn your nose up at anything so plebeian as Cote d’Or, Galler and Guylian (they’re sold in supermarkets, for God’s sake!). You wouldn’t be seen dead in Godiva or Leonidas, which have worldwide franchises. Ugh, how common. You’ve tried everything Corné Port-Royal and Neuhaus have to offer. You know your praline from your ganache, your truffle from your gianduja.
You’re even getting a bit tired of Marcolini, although you love their bags. You can walk through the Sablons or the Galerie de la Reine without breaking your stride. The drugs don’t quite work any more, although you’ve made a cushion cover out of all the ribbons. Chocolatiers are constantly striving for something new. Lately there has been a fashion for announcing the country of origin of the cocoa beans, which has resulted in some labelling that would not go amiss in an Amsterdam coffee shop. Tanzanian black, Nicaraguan red and Ghanaian gold are not for smoking. New exotic flavourings, using spices and things you wouldn’t normally associate with chocolate such as flowers, have been appearing on the shelves. Dolfin is a range of organic chocolate bars which are sold in supermarkets flavoured with oddities such as lavender or violet. Britain’s Green & Black are mirroring the innovation going on in Belgium but have a long way to catch up.
I sampled and sampled and sampled Belgian chocolates, but found something was missing. I couldn’t put my finger on the missing ingredient. It was only when I tasted one of Café-Tasse’s weird 2010 range (cracked pepper, chilli, etc.) that I realized what it was. It was SALT, a vital ingredient in British chocolate, which I think enhances the flavour. Try Café Tasse’s chocolate flavoured with fleur de sel or anything with salty caramel in it to see what I mean. Then again, I was brought up on Milk Tray.
19th November marked the start of Chocolate Week in Brussels, when a 34-metre long chocolate train was unveiled at the Gare du Midi, made by a Malteser! Geddit? Valletta pastry chef Andrew Ferrugia’s 34-metre chocolate sculpture made a valiant attempt to get into the Guinness Book of Records with the biggest chocolate structure ever made. Meanwhile, French artisan chocolatier Patrick Roger had recreated the African jungle in his window - in chocolate.
Looking for a new high in the chocolate world? The following artisan chocolatiers are the last word in exclusive, Aunty Brenda is not likely to stumble across any of these in the high street back home in Essex.
Laurent Gerbaud Chocolatier Rue Ravenstein 2d
Frederic Blondeel Chocolatier, Quai aux Briques 24
Van Dender 416 chaussée de Louvain (Place Dailly) - multiple award winner for cakes and chocolates, accredited to the Royal Court of Belgium
Mary’s have two posh shops in Brussels (including an outlet in Rob, one in La Hulpe, three in Moscow, one in St Barth and one in Cape Town) and your Aunty Brenda will be sharing her guilty pleasure with Queen Paola of Belgium who gets her fix here.
Le St.-Aulaye, Rue Jean Chapelié 4 London-trained award-winning Australian pastry chef Ryan Stevenson is chocolate supremo at this high quality bakery/patisserie/chocolaterie.
Manon 24 rue du Congrès
Zaabär Chaussée de Charleroi 125
Café Tasse 15, rue du Marché aux Herbes. The company, with its worldwide network of distributors, is far from being artisanal, but their individually wrapped neapolitans mix high-cocoa-content chocolate with exotic flavours and spices, such as black pepper, rock salt, chilli, etc.
Jean-Philippe Darcis Petite Rue au Beurre 14, This Verviers-based Maitre chocolatier has outlets in Brussels and Liège as well as an online shop. He also does cakes and macaroons.
Nicolas Arnaud Rue Américaine 93, Ixelles Another UK-trained French invader specializing in chocolates and macaroons, open Sundays. His speciality is “choux de Bruxelles”, little choux pastries filled with exotic flavoured cream such as toffee, mango or raspberry, profiteroles with a difference.
You could save on time and shoe leather and just circumnavigate the Place des Sablons and sidestreets where you will find a bunch of upmarket chocolate shops:
Alex & Alex, Rue de la Paille 32
Wittamer Place du Grand Sablon 6 Macaroons and chocolates
Patrick Roger, place du Grand Sablon 43 The slightly mad French chocolate artist who won the “Meilleur ouvrier de France” award in 2011, has finally opened a Brussels boutique, which is worth a visit if only to see the fabulous chocolate sculptures in the window. The sales people wear dark polo necks and behave like something out of Ab Fab.
Passion Rue Bodenbroek 2
Pure, Rue de Rollebeek 48
Pierre Marcolini, Rue des Minimes 1, outlets in Eurostar terminal, Woluwe Shopping and Rob. Uber trendy, the sales staff are snooty and the main shop is decorated like an Uccle knocking shop. Lovely boxes, though.
Neuhaus, Corné, Leonidas and Godiva are also on the Sablons.
Alternatively, check out several of the above mentioned masters in one fell swoop at La Maison des Maitres Chocolatiers at no. 4 Grand’Place, where 10 of the greats share some of their secrets. Website Portail du Chocolat Belge is a catalogue of Belgian artisan chocolatiers with addresses of outlets. Chocolocate will help serious addicts source quality gear, or order Pascal Nihoul chocs online through Rob, 28 boulevard de la Woluwe or Rhino in Uccle
Out of town
Centho Duisburg (Tervuren),
Marioca 9820 Merelbeke
Ducobu 16, rue de la Station, Waterloo
De Graeve in Zelzate, small town north of Ghent, or online shop
Dooms 9280 Lebbeke (Dendermonde)
Meurisse, Brusselsesteenweg 450, 1500 Halle
Van Coillie of Roeselare online sales only through website Chocolate Online
If you prefer to take your guilty secret out of town, the following towns have reputable dealers:
Bruges: Dumon, Eiermarkt & Walplaats Lovely chocolates, and not excessively expensive - 5 euros something for a 250g selection box, but they’re a bit dictatorial about making up a bespoke selection for you.
Ghent - Luc en Cedric van Hoorebeke Jan Breydelstraat 1 - The Ghent-based Greek immigrant family who created the Leonidas chocolate brand also franchised another international chain of stores under their family name Daskalides and still have two shops in Gent, on the Grote Markt and the Vrijdagmarkt, although both closed on Sundays. Also in Antwerp, Hasselt, Liège, and Brussels
Liège: Benoit Nihant Passage Lemonnier and online shop
Namur: La Maison Bertrand, 30 rue des Croisiers - Fronville, 5 rue de Fer - Carrément Bon (Raphael Giot), 11 rue Saint-Jacques