Oddly labeled as BS40, the shop at Rue Au Beurre 40 apparently now selling more than just Chocolates from Darci’s, it was after a touristy walk around Brussels Grand Place and Les Galeries Royales that a visit was made to another of Brussels’ foremost Chocolatiers, the prices on par with most as Macarons raise the bar for taste as well as texture while Chocolates are presented in a rather unique variety.
A place where Pralines take center stage, in this way no different than most of the Shops in Belgium, Darci’s Chocolates sets itself apart from other spaces by labeling each item with full description and whether one opts for the “Owl” with Whisky Caramel and White Chocolate or “Sesamon” with Hazelnut Crisps and Salty finish there really is no wrong option the Speculoos and Arabica also excellent with their expected, yet well crafted, fillings.
Moving past Chocolates, the confitures offered alongside Gaufre admittedly quite tempting, the decision was instead made to sample a few of BS40’s pastel French Cookies, the batch made fresh that morning still sporting a shell with a perfectly crisp break overlying intensely flavored, but lightly sugared, creams and jellies.
Cod with Goose Liver Croquette, Hazelnut, Cauliflower Mousseline
Carpaccio of Salmon, Oyster Cream, Kaffir Lime
Red Wine, Olive, Beer, Country, Wheat, Baguette with Butter and Anchovy Butter, Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper
Brittany Blue Lobster a la Press with Heart of Sweetbreads, Asparagus, Potatoes Mouselline
Floating Island with Raspberries and English Cream
Baba with Spices, Pineapple, Mojito Sorbet, Chantilly, Biscuit
Holding onto Two Michelin Stars for several years, perhaps a bit of a surprise considering its lobby location inside the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Sea Grill by Yves Mattagne was targeted for one reason for lunch on a Thursday, the 12h00 finding the room mostly empty though eventually a few seats in the cavernous luxe dining room would fill.
Perhaps a bit too “business” to qualify as fine-dining, the service staff undoubtedly one of the most professional and stiff encountered in all of Belgium, Sea Grill likely goes unnoticed by many epicurean travelers in a city where the Chef also runs one of the most desired ‘rooms with a view’ in the world, but for those looking for an “experience” it is the 29kg Pure Silver Lobster Press that comes calling, the creation from Christofle one of only five the world has ever seen.
No doubt a pricy place, all the moreso when opting for the Brittany Blue Lobsters prepared tableside a la press, it was with brief temptation offered by the Chef’s tasting that the decision was instead made to simply go all-in on an entrée plus desert selection, the total cost of the main course – for two – €190 with dessert and water bringing the total to €223.
Explaining that the Lobster first needed to be cooked in the kitchen, the total meal just under two hours with front and back end loaded with leisurely paced treats, it was with one canapé plus three amuses that the afternoon got started, the espuma of Cod much like Brandade de Morue with an ethereal texture while the Goose Liver Croquette burst with deep, rich sapor.
More than a little impressed by the bread selection, both the Red Wine and Olive amongst the best of the best with Anchovy Butter particularly noteworthy on the latter, it was just under an hour after seating that the polished Silver Press was wheeled tableside, the display catching eyes of everyone in the dining room as the staff presented each item individually between bouts of spinning and repositioning the crustacean’s carapace, the Lobster soon plated with an enormous Sweetbread breaded and roasted before being hemisected.
Monitored from afar as I dined with a smile, more Asparagus, Potatoes and Sauce brought as needed without request, there is little doubt that this rich a composition is something best shared by a pair as suggested but happy to partake in such indulgence it was with slow bites that every single drop was enjoyed, the balance of the sauce even wiped up with a piece of bread.
Truly a luxurious experience, but not one yet ready to wrap, it was after a brief tour to see the rest of the restaurant that a fresh Dessert napkin was delivered, the Ille Flottante matching the Espuma for levity while the composed Baba was a unique spin on the original that makes one curious about the pastry kitchen’s other creations, a thought furthered by the craftsmanship put into each of the four mignardises.
Told by some that Patisserie de Baere was “worth the traffic,” an early morning drive from the hotel moving at a snail’s pace to the tune of just under three-kilometers covered in about an hour, it was with a steady rain falling that entry was made to the corner location at Heydenberglaan 20 in Woluwe-St-Lambert, the rumors not only proving to be true but possibly extrapolated to phrases including “best pastries in Belgium, if not amongst the best in Europe.”
Owned by Rik de Baere, a multiple award winning Pastry Chef who was on site helping his Staff on Thursday morning at 09h15, a visit to Patisserie de Baere is somewhat akin to the Children with a Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s Factory, the number of options larger than any other bakery with even twice the floor-space and the sort of place where all but the most disciplined are likely to not only be tempted, but to over-order substantially.
Truly a vast array, many cakes and tarts glimmering behind glass while cookies, viennoiserie and bread decorate wood shelves or racks, it was with Chef de Baere himself procuring the order that item after item was requested in English flecked with French, the three bags and a box eventually holding eight items for a total of under €20 an unbelievable deal given the overall quality.
Finding several of the items still warm-to-touch, the Almond Croissant starting the tasting with shards of pastry plus powdered sugar slowly floating to the ground as a wispy interior delivered the flavor of nothing but pure almonds, butter and the results of time, the caramelized raisin pastry previously unfamiliar matching the croissant in terms of interior while upping the ante further by way of a crisp layer of caramelization coiled around dried fruit.
With each of the Financiers smooth and buttery as almond flour dazzled around pockets of fruit, it was actually the Raspbery Hazelnut Tart that proved to be the spotlight-stealing selection of the morning as the traditional Frangipane Tart found an added dimension of flavor that had it eating something like a Clafoutis at the base with a toothsome buttercake and nuts on top.
Stunned to see Sfogliatelle, the Italian Cream pastry textbook with coils of dough breaking like glass around the light citrus center, more traditional French items were further exemplified by Brioche topped in Frangipane lightly toasted, the Éclair another sliced version with picture perfect choux surrounding silky Cream infused with Coffee.
Another family-owned Boluangerie and Patisserie, it was to Avenue Jules de Trooz 25 in Woluwe-St-Pierre that the GPS was set after a late night at In de Wulf, and arriving to find that this Patisserie Goossens is not the same as that in Antwerp there still seemed much to be discovered, the results a bit hit and miss, though the overall experience was quite pleasant.
No doubt a bit off the tourist grid, the only other patron during a 30 minute visit clearly a local as he chatted with the baker and clerk at length, it was after short perusal that a total of six pastries were selected from Goossens’ collection, a pair of indoor tables offered without surcharge like many others.
Starting off with an Almond Croissant, as is customary, first tastes showed Goossens to lack the notable degree of lamination achieved by other Belgian Bakeries, yet when moving on to a pocket full of stewed cherries there was indeed improvement, later tastes of the Pain au Chocolate similar to the former and although light enough with a golden shell, not matched to personal preferences.
Told that a Gateau Chocolat was “very good” by the clerk, its texture a bit dry though the cocoa notes rang loud and clear, a better bite was found in the Poire Frangipane Tart that outperformed Le Temps des Tartines by way of fruit turning the almond base into a sort of soft pudding, the Éclair anticipated to be Espresso actually a semi-sweet caramel that reminisced of the disappointment at Le Temps as it sliced and filled with custard rather than being piped with cream.
Pigeon, Jugged and Hung 2 weeks, Aged 6 weeks and Roasted in the Hay
Buttermilk, Red Beetroot, Nasturtium Bulb
Strawberry, Pineapple Weed – Foraged Berries Smoked on the Coals
Goat’s Curd, Daisy – Milk, Stems, Cream
Smoutebollen, Juniper –Pork Fat Fried
Raspberries, Yogurt – Smoked Butter Crust
Ostensibly the impetus for a trip to Belgium, Chef Kobe Desramaults’ late 2015 announcement of intent to shutter his Michelin Starred Space in Dranouter at the end of 2016, it was with great anticipation and a long drive in the fog that the car was parked at In de Wulf for a three-and-a-half-hour meal that included everything from an informative kitchen visit to a literal power-outage.
Still a very young man despite the substantial accolades and two more restaurants in Gent, Desramaults’ ascent to fame began after the passing of his father thrust him into the role of Chef at the small family-owned Inn and having climbed to prominence by way of a style that trends “new-Nordic” in its focus on foraging and presenting a menu largely crafted by indigenous ingredients the tasting-menu only format is presented as a flurry of small bites slowly evolving in terms of both size and complexity, a total of twenty plates and one beverage served at the cost of just under $200US this particular Tuesday Evening.
Known for its rustic architecture, the dining room really no more than a converted cabin with an elevated platform featuring two tables at the far end affording a wide view of the room, it was after seeing and hearing tale of the restaurant’s evolution and focus on sustainability that a seat was finally taken and with everything from butter to charcuterie, cheese and bread made in house there is little doubt that the team of fifteen Chefs and Stages who also function as servers is incredibly in-tune with the Chef’s concept, each item presented with thorough detailing and plenty of pride shown.
Criticized by some, recently, for becoming too Vegetable-focused and thereby forgoing some of the wild-caught game presented at meals past, there is little doubt that a meal at In de Wulf focuses strongly on the local wilderness as well as that of nearby France, but whether presented with a broad leaf of Sorrel topped in Chicken Skin or a delicate tart marrying Radish to Goat Cheese the flavors always seem to come across with a bold confidence and understanding of what it is like to truly embrace nature, the topped Egg filled with Dogfish and Young Peas dazzling with a base of custard that came across as both smooth and vibrant simultaneously.
No doubt a place where Bread and Butter will prove irresistible to all but the most restrained, the Sourdough also offered at De Superette in some ways redefining the genre with a robust crust that tastes lightly burnt around a crumb that is nutty yet as soft as Wonderbread back home, the arrival of silverware announces the start of In de Wulf’s larger items and starting off with a chilled soup of Cauliflower and skimmed Buttermilk Cheese with Acacia Flowers the menu rapidly moves through a vegetable foray unlike almost anything seen Stateside, the White Asparagus made the star with Squid taking a backseat while the Runner Bean porridge went sour only to be brought back into context by a small toast of melted cheese with Wild Onions and fresh Horseradish.
At this point turning to more meaty items, a short period dining by candlelight remedied by one of the Chefs being sent to flip a breaker, there was certainly no lack of power when it came to Lobster poached in butter with a stock of its own carapace and coral, the followup titled “Zurkelstoemp” literally seeing a small Potato cut from an Ash crust at tableside with each diner encouraged to mash it with Egg Yolk and a variety of foraged Sorrels.
Seeing wolffish on a menu for the first time, the Atlantic bottom-dweller surprisingly mild when served adjacent Leeks and a foamy Stew of its Bones, the aromatics were upped significantly by a lone ravioli stuffed with Pork Trotters, Tails and Mustard in a vibrant green bath of Spinach and Elderberries, the fatty cut of lamb to follow offset by Lovage and charred Rhubarb while a final savory of 8-week aged Pigeon disproved any rumors of Desramaults losing his curveball as funky flavors came across in-full from flesh that may as well have melted without use of teeth.
Not really expecting much from dessert, the table next to mine having already completed dinner that was perhaps expedited by the staff as the couple had spent nearly a quarter of the time making out, it was with great surprise that each of the three courses, as well as mignardises, were actually quite pleasant, the first going bitter by degrees with Buttermilk and Beetroot before progressing to charred Berries beneath ice cream made from Pineapple Weed, the “Goat’s Curd, Daisy” described as a ‘lifecycle’ as the flower feeds the local livestock whose milk is used to make the custard beneath.
Updating Gaufre Liege, the famous waffles made with pearl sugar found on any number of Belgian streets, may seem a fool’s folly given the traditions and expectations involved, but “Handmade in Bruges…ever since” Go.fre set out with just this concept in mind when launching it’s made-and-dipped-to-order Waffle on a Stick concept, and judging by lines seen over the course of three visits to the city both locals as well as tourists seem to have embraced it.
In reality a very tiny storefront, the clerk isolated to a space no larger than a couple square meters where hot irons and baths of liquid chocolate flank both sides allowing him to do his duties without taking a step, Go.fre ironically lies directly across the street from old-favorite Chez Albert and with prices starting at €2.50 for a naked waffle while dipped and topped options max out at just four Euros the competition for clients is undoubtedly fierce, each offering their own downfalls and benefits.
Not accounting for authenticity as relates to delivery, but every bit on par with the better places in Belgium with regard to a stretchy batter cooked just long enough to melt sugar pearls and lightly brown the top, Go.fre waffles are offered pre-made and boxed for gifting to those interested, but having tried both there is no doubt that made-to-order is the way to go for those dining with chocolate still dripping, the Miel-Chocolate a definite winner for those looking for something sweet while the Dark Chocolate is not as bitter as some, though some of this may indeed have been a result of crispy cocoa orbs that added a strong textural contrast.
Belgian Waffle – House Molten Chocolate, House Whipped Cream
Located in Bruges with recent fame for its “Extra Large Homemade Waffles,” Lizzie’s Wafels at Sint Jakobsstraat 16 seems almost American in its concept and with a mostly-English speaking full-house midday on Tuesday assumptions of targeting tourists was confirmed mere minutes after entry, the staff not particularly pleasant though the Waffles themselves are quite good despite prices higher than most and turn and burn cash-only pricing.
Not a place to sit and linger, the line always present despite seating for approximately twenty when accounting for the large table in back, Lizzie’s sticks to the classic Brussels version of Waffle and doubling the size on most while charging a la carte for each topping the total for one is likely to trump €12 even before accounting for beverages, teas and coffee outsourced from a variety of purveyors.
Waiting less than ten minutes after ordering for a hot waffle, the made-to-order item best shared by at least two as it really is quite large, it was with housemade Chantilly and Molten Chocolate that the crisp exterior was topped and taking a first bite the texture was a textbook balance of crunch over wispy interior, the Chocolate and Whipped cream slowly soaking each square indent but never compromising the taste of mildly malted batter.
Vegetables, herbs and flowers – walk through our garden, inspired by Michel Bras
Asparagus from Sijsele – grilled with kimchi, mousseline with smoked bone marrow and cod roe
Goose liver – smoked eel, radish, bergamot and aniseed
Meringue – Mango, Goose Liver, Coca Cola (Kitchen Snack)
Challans duck – prepared in hay with red beet and liquorice jus
Cheese Cart – Marcona Almonds, Apricot Jam, Fig Jam
Lemon – abstract combination of lemon with Thai pepper and coriander
Snickers – chef’s guilty pleasure
Take Home Chocolate
Always hoping for splendor when entering one of the “World’s Best Restaurants” it was with the same expectations as usual that the car was parked in Zedelgem and with the remote location rousing images peaceful meals like Michel Bras or Azurmendi the experience at Hertog Jan started off beautifully, but rapidly declined to the point of requesting a seat change followed by a strong desire to stand up and leave.
Owned and operated by Gert De Mangeleer and Joachim Boudens with a third Michelin Star arriving in late 2011 and reconfirmed in 2015 after construction converted a nearly 200-year-old barn into a dining space where floor-to-ceiling windows surround a simple wood and brick room with leather wrapped ‘office chairs’ pulled up to white linen tables, Hertog Jan is strongly focused on nature’s simplicity and doing its best to source all produce from its own gardens there is little doubt that the food itself is a glorious exploration of Belgium’s past, present and future – the problems encountered not a result of anything done by Chef De Mangeleer or his Kitchen Staff but rather a Maitre D’ who chose to let a party of nearly fifty local socialites grow out of control to the point where Hertog Jan’s noise level resembled that of an elementary school cafeteria or a particularly raucous wedding.
Not one to regularly fault a restaurant for its patrons, as such *trying* to overlook the noise that was not at all ignorable despite the party being placed in a “private room” where the service staff never bothered to close the door, it was nonetheless that the meal got underway with a forgettable €14 Mocktail served alongside the most expensive bottled water seen in Belgium, the longest of De Mangeleer’s degustations pre-selected when making the reservation and all nine courses served as clinking glasses, clapping and giddy screams occasionally burst forth from a continuous low-roar.
Surely a talented kitchen, the opening bites of Avocado Mousse, Headcheese and airy Pommes Puree with Coffee, Vanilla and Mimolette all memorable, as was the warm Sourdough with a robust crust and plenty of whole grains served with local Farmhouse Butter plus Cumin Spread, Hertog Jan’s “INTEGRAL” menu officially began with marinated seabass dressed in a splash of seasonal herbs and vegetables, the thin packages assembled of shaved Pumpkin doing a beautiful job of mellowing Passion fruit with White Chocolate, Pepper and Shellfish with just a sprinkle of Fleur de Sel.
Paying tribute to Michel Bras with a spiral of Vegetables, herbs and flowers cooked individually before moving ever-so-slowly to White Asparagus beneath creamy Bone Marrow and grated Cod Roe lightly spiced, the first ‘wow’ on the menu was provided by sliced Radishes in a vibrant broth alongside smoked eel rolled around Goose Liver, the textures as bold as the flavors with the overall effect far greater than the sum of its parts.
Offered a visit to the kitchen, and an empty promise that the rest of the meal would be expedited to avoid further annoyance from the party, return to dining room found new seating a bit further from the annoyances and after another lengthy delay a large slice of Duck roasted in hay was presented, the plating and flavors both equally dramatic as a splatter of beetroot was lightly tinged in licorice.
Quickly presented the cheese cart, a great selection highlighted by Belgian favorites as well as a few truly unique options from Scandanavia, it was once again another lengthy delay that preceded desserts and Mignardises, the Lemon shards not particularly compelling while the “Chef’s Guilty Pleasure” was a smile inducer in both its entirely familiar taste as well as its vast array of textures.
Housemade Copa, House Churned Butter, Sourdough, Danish Cheese, House Confiture
Egg Skillet with Foraged Mushrooms, Leeks, Woodland Herbs, Hard Cheese
Spelt Bread with Jam and Frangipane
Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter Puddle Cookies
Owned by Kobe Desramaults, the man whose announced pending closure of In de Wulf took the world by surprise in late 2015, De Superette in Gent immediately jumped to the top of a culinary “to-do” list the minute reservations were secured for his Michelin 1* restaurant in Dranouter, the meal enjoyed just past 09h00 every bit as memorable as the one to be had near the French border later that evening.
Truly an all-day operation, lunch and dinner offered along with breakfast while several bakers arrive before dawn to make sure leavening items are progressing while preparing the wood ovens for a busy day, De Superette sees Desramaults teaming with two other with a focus on high quality organic breads baked in the old tradition, the execution truly remarkable with such dedication that the restaurant actually generates embers for the grill from the wood used to heat the oven made of stone.
A relaxing space with a kitchen that gives those interested the opportunity to see nearly every aspect of bread production, as well as unique things like apples being roasted over direct flame to make apple juice or jam, De Superette takes the traditional “coffee house” vibe to new levels with tableside service as well as grab n’ go options, both investigated to the fullest over the course of a 60 minute stay.
Opting for the complete breakfast in addition to several pastries it was with WiFi barely logged into that the first of several items began to arrive and with good coffee served black via pour-over next to rosy Apple Juice first bites of the Kouign Amann sent the mind spinning – questions arising as to whether any previously experienced even came close to this degree of caramelization atop melted butter, the answer a resounding no after subsequent bites while the Pain aux Chocolat was equally archetypical with a robust shell overlying arches of lamination around pipelines of melted dark chocolate.
Deciding savories were in order, the meat, cheese and butter all made either in-house or at In de Wulf, a board of Copa, Butter, Sourdough, Soft Cheese and Confiture soon arrived next to a scalding cast-iron skillet with two runny eggs topped in foraged Mushrooms, Leeks, Woodland Herbs and hard Cheese added after baking with each taste showing the benefits of passion and product sourcing as the pork literally melted on the tongue while the makeshift scramble was woodsy with a great juxtaposition of textures whether placed on Toast or eaten by itself.
Taking the rest to go, a total bill just under €30 a bit pricey but worth every cent, it was later that afternoon that four more items were enjoyed as a snack and although the streets of Bruges were a slightly different scene than the dining room at Guldenspoorstraat 21 the results were no less impressive as both cookies felt like someone had upgraded American ingredients simply by trying harder, the Bread Pudding filled with all sorts of texture from fruit, nuts, chocolate and custard while the toothsome Spelt Bread saw Frangipane’s sweetness put to good use overlying a thin layer Berry Jam.
Located in the upscale environs of the Place du Grand Sablon with a sprawling space and seating that far exceeds many other patisseries or chocolatiers, Wittamer is perhaps best assessed as Belgium’s answer to Laduree, the collection perhaps even larger with prices not quite as excessive.
Originally opened in 1910, the story of an immigrant following his dream giving way to a modern dynasty, Wittamer is now managed by a son and daughter team and with locations now found internationally the concept continues to evolve and create while at the same time maintaining one foot planted firmly in its family-owned history.
Arriving just past 07h00, the shelves just being filled by elegant cakes and tarts with viennoiserie still warm, it was with a rather stern warning that indoor photography is “forbidden” that selections were made, the waffles and icecream not available until later but a half-dozen pastries requested to the tune of €19.10.
Taking goods to the streets, the warmth of the Almond Croissant and Pain aux Raisin perceptible through the bag, it was with shattering flakes of pastry that bites were taken of each item, the buttery caverns inside each lightly touched by their accoutrements while a cream-filled Croissant maintained good structure despite custard speckled with vanilla bean.
Impressed to this point, high marks for texture a bit lost in an Apple Tart that was unfortunately soggy and not particularly well flavored by fruit, Wittamer righted the ship immediately by way of a just-stacked Mille-Feuille that crackled to fork pressure with the same smooth filling as the Cream Croissant, the Coconut Meringue Cake so light that a few less grams would have seen it levitating as delicate shavings of dark chocolate flew to the air with each forkful and slowly floated to the ground.
Marinated Salmon with Horseradish and Turnips, Glazed Almonds, Pie of Tomato and Olive Tapenade, Beignet of Boursin Cheese and Duke of Berkshire Pork, Burratta with Tomato Sorbet and Zucchini in Pesto
Olive Oil, Butter from Flanders, Cereal Sourdough, White Roll
Marinated filet of Meagre, ‘Oeuf a la Neige’ with spices, Baby Squid, Anchovy Cream
White Asparagus, Flan of ‘Duke of Berkshire’ Ham, Black Truffle Vinaigrette
Slightly smoked Salmon, Oil of Crustacean, Green Herbs
Roasted Langoustine and Goose Liver, Marinated Eggplant, Seaweed and Lemongrass Infusion
Roasted Young Cockerel and Sweetbreads in Breadcrumb Crust, Leg stuffed with ‘Oud Brugge’ Cheese, Green Asparagus, Wild Mushrooms, Morels
Cheese Trolly, Fruit Bread, Fig Chutney
Strawberries and Rhubarb
Chocolate Textures and Caramel
Mignardises, Cocoa Egg with Coffee Cream
Originally planning a trip to Belgium shortly after In de Wulf announced an imminent shutter at the end of 2016 it was with some surprise that research uncovered De Karmeliet’s plan to do similar by the middle of December, Geert Van Heecke ‘s Michelin 3* in Bruges considered by many to be the most rarified dining room in all of Belgium with the Chef himself somewhat of a national treasure in terms of championing the country’s cuisine.
Holding the highest Red Guide accolades since 1996, Chef van Hecke having stated in the past that he wished to retire at the age of sixty having originally opened De Karmeliet at age 27 in 1983, there is little doubt that the Chef’s resume shines as brightly as any in Belgium with training at the elbow of names like Chapel and Ducasse, the €230 “Brugge Die Scone” menu consisting of seven courses flanked on both ends with bonuses and an expected time at the table of just under four-hours with an admittedly protracted pace.
Truly a refined room, the heavy carpet and artwork both lending a bourgeois air to crisp linens and plenty of polished silver, diners are greeted with a basket of potato crisps topped in cheese and paprika while they are allowed to peruse the menu and within moments of making a selection a flurry of nibbles begins arriving, the tiny Tomato tartlette glistening beneath Olive Tapenade while a donut filled with creamy Cheese and Ham burst with flavor, but not a hint of oil at all.
A bit disappointing in bread service, the lightly salted butter from Flanders deserving far better than the dry White Roll though the Cereal Sourdough was good, but not great, the official degustation began with a meaty filet of Meagre alongside a Floating Island of lightly spiced Meringue with several more components of sea life including a lightly poached Clam, baby Squid, cream of Anchovy and a chlorophyll-rich Seaweed crisp.
Trending in step with the rest of Europe’s Asparagus obsession, this menu as well as every other early-Summer tasting featuring both white and green stalks at some point during the meal, course two placed White Asparagus alongside supple slices as well as a flan of ‘Duke of Berkshire’ Ham, the boldness of the plate further enhanced by preserved dollops of Black Truffle while a follow-up of smoked Salmon danced beneath a creamy mousse of the same fish with oil of Crustacean and poignant herbal aromatics at its base.
Never trending ‘heavy’ despite Geert’s French training and deft hand with sauces as well as cream, savories were concluded with a one-two punch of roasted Langoustine and Goose Liver with Aubergine followed by a roasted male chicken served alongside sweetbreads and spring mushrooms as well as vegetables, the braised leg of the bird amongst the very best bites in Belgium as it had been stuffed with melted ‘Oud Brugge’ Cheese.
Truly a family affair, the matriarch of the family greeting tables early on and later acting as the resident Fromagier, Cheeses from De Karmeliet prove to be the most Belgium-centric of all the restaurants visited in the country and allowing Ms. Van Heecke to guide the decision process all five slices were as aged to perfection, the sweets to follow all well crafted in classic tradition without a hint of ‘exotic fruit’ to be seen anywhere.
Based out of Bruges with a location now in Antwerp and chocolates offered at elite shops and restaurants throughout Belgium, The Chocolate Line by Dominique Persoone is considered by some to be one of the most innovative Chocolate Shops in all of Europe, a quick look at her collection showing influences coming from East and West with Historical favorites equally well crafted at a price that proves a bargain considering the quality of each tablet, praline and truffle.
Smaller than many of the country’s elite chocolatiers, the store bordering on ‘crowded’ with glass cases lining one side, shelves on the other with a workshop behind the counter in back, those entering The Chocolate Line are immediately struck by the sheer variety of options and with several different boxes available the question becomes one of personal preference and just how much each guest chooses to splurge.
Open until 18h30 seven days a week, a bit later than Dumon or The Old Chocolate House with a better selection than both, temptation at The Chocolate Line comes in several forms with pralines being the most prevalent, the newest collection taking a look at the flavors of the world with a particular focus on China and India but also with items as unique as Chocolate infused with Tomato and Basil called the “Italien.”
Offering several unique molds for the confections, some shaped like Buddha, Apples or Corncobs truly ornate, flavors ranging from Dark Ganache to Lychee and Ginger were particularly intriguing, the Saffron Curry as bold as might be expected while Pure Criollo was spicy without being too much so, the best bite of the group coming from the Walnut topped Milk Chocolate with a bittersweet interior, though the white chocolate Nougat was also quite great.
Welcoming Finger Foods – Cucumber with Tobiko and Vinegar / Seasame with Mozzarella and Aloe Vera / Cake of Green Olive and Anchovy / Monkfish with Smoked Eel Mousse / Potato with Mustard and Manchego / Chicken Skin with Goose Liver, Apple, Red Onion
Bread – Rye, Cereal Sourdough, Baguette with Watercress, Butter, Olive Oil, Pepper, Smoked Salt, Fleur de Sel
Garden on Your Plate – Asparagus, Fines Herbes, Pea Pudding, Garlic Blossoms, Grains
Nougat – Peanut, Calamansi, Yogurt, Kaffir Lime, Passion Fruit
Strawberries – Gariguette, Fennel, Granny Smith Apples, Lavender
Speculoos Smile – Speculoos, Milk Jam, Canele
Located approximately 7 kilometers from Antwerp, in a large house built in the late 1800s, Bart de Pooter’s Pastorale Restaurant has held two Michelin Stars since 2007 and essentially making a dining destination out of the small town of Reet the Chef promises to offer only things Extraordinary throughout the course of a meal, the pledge found to be almost entirely truthful from beginning to end.
Offering several menus, the “Sensation I Expression” a comprehensive 11-course experience taking a look at de Pooter’s classics and items taken in-step with the season, it was just past 11h30 that a seat was taken at the far end of a dining room decorated with a wood spiral, the contemporary feel of the restaurant furthered by LED screens with moving wireframes and a statue featuring a golden astronaut conducting a symphony outdoors.
Served by a team of four throughout the 210-minute meal, pacing as well as atmosphere compromised by a table of four loudly-conversing Energy Specialists at an adjacent table that kept rotating out members for a large meeting upstairs, it was mere moments after ordering and declining wine service that six stone pillars each arrived topped with welcoming finger foods, each a brilliant bite with the chicken skin and olive cake particularly memorable.
Palate opened wide by the diversity of snacks it was after a short delay that Pastorale’s bakery sent forth a trio of breads with a half-dozen condiments, the rustic sourdough loaf still warm and requested as seconds later in the afternoon as the crusty texture and supple crumb was simply too good to resist.
Not entirely certain where the snacks and amuses end or where the menu itself began it was nonetheless that a Michel Bras inspired “Garden on Your Plate” arrived featuring Asparagus, Pea Pudding, Garlic Blossoms plus several grains and with light acid from the vinaigrette leading nicely into Grapefruit paired to Mackerel with Lettuce alongside Fresh Cheese de Pooter showed the first of several plates that prove great skill in pairing divergent ingredients, a similar balance struck by meaty Cod with Legumes and creamy Whey.
Going heavier as the meal progressed, butter poached segments of Lobster tail dancing in a broth of smoked butter with Sea Lavender and Tarragon, the followup of Sweetbreads with Morels, Puffed Cereal and Oatmeal bathed in “Bear’s” Garlic was truly a showstopper in terms of unanticipated taste as well as texture, especially when compared to the followup of Wagyu Shoulder that seemed as if it were brought in from another kitchen as the combination of Kimchee, Black Beans and Soy gave it an Americanized Chinese Take-Out flavor.
Smiling at the kitchen’s choice to offer Goose Foie Gras in the place where the Carte du Fromage normally arrives, the arrangement with Roasted Cauliflower, Curry and Golden Raisins actually eating much like a composed warm cheese course, it was onward to sweets that De Pastorale’s menu marched onward, the Passion Fruit orb easily cast aside from Nougat and Peanuts while the followup of Strawberries with Fennel, Apples and Lavender struck a fine balance of sweet and aromatic, the full-sized “Speculoos Smile” generally reserved for large parties proving a perfectly fitting end to a meal that will surely leave most beaming.
Desire, 72% Single Origin Chocolates, Caramel Duck, Pistachio Marzipan
Italian by heritage and Belgian by birth, Pierre Marcolini was awarded the title of “World Pastry Champion” by age 31 and already a giant in the Chocolate industry by age of 45, his passion renowned by both fans and collaborators to create some of the world’s best confections having now led to boutiques throughout many of Europe and Japan’s largest cities.
Up until recently known as a brilliant chocolatier with Bean-to-Bar ethics blended to the sort of creativity that sees him sourcing exotic fruits and herbs for pralines and truffles, Marcolini’s collection has now begun to also take a look back at the Chef’s roots in pastry and with a keen sense for what “works” paired to peerless ingredients the results of everything in the store is impressive to taste as it is to look at.
Opting to visit the Antwerp store, time and location simply best fit to plans, entry to the store was met by a smiling blond woman who provided pressure-free white gloved service, the eventual choice being ten items including five chocolates and five pastries at a total of €21.50.
Taking items to the streets, no room to eat within the elegant clean-lined store, it was in a small courtyard that first bites were taken and doing best to move light to heavy the flavor of both the Pistachio and Speculoos Macaron were spot-on, the light cookie shattering to the tooth with filling slowly dissipating.
Smaller than many in terms of the Éclairs, each perhaps double the size of an adult index finger, suffice it to say that Marcollini’s Choux holds up to anything found in France or Belgium, the fillings each smooth and indulgent with a particular nod to the espresso version that walks a tightrope between bitter and sweet ever-so deftly.
Told by the clerk that the exotic “Desire” was her favorite item in the store, and pairing it with four more pralines for good measure, the flavor of the gold-wrapped candy was that of a Snickers married to fruits as well as spices, the flavor as complex as the chocolates were each pure and delicate making for an overall beautiful experience that justifies spending a few extra dollars above ‘average.’
Making a daytrip to Antwerp, the drive smooth once one finally makes it out of the early morning tree-sap of Brussels traffic, it was just past 10h00 when an entrance was made at Desire de Lille Restaurant and Tea Room, the historic favorite of tourists unfortunately living up to recent rumors that it only exists as a shell of its former self with an overpriced menu and even the audacity to charge those dining in a restroom fee.
Known for its Dutch Specialties including Pancakes, Waffles and fried balls of Dough plus Ice Cream and Sundaes, those opting to dine at Desire de Lille during morning hours are likely to find the sizable space mostly empty and with nearly one-on-one service offered as the cleaning crew tended to their daily duties it was after only a few minutes that an order was decided, a double espresso with ice arriving alongside a small waffle bite with a pair of items from the kitchen only a few moments away.
Not especially friendly for a tourist spot, the young server English fluent but clearly preoccupied with chatting up kitchen staff while intermittently checking his phone, Coffee at Desire de Lille is better than average for Belgium while the €9.90 Waffle with Cherries and Chantilly was not as crisp or sizable as many, the powdered sugar-topped Smoutebollen a far better bargain for just €4.90 though not particularly interesting past the first two or three.
Tiny but well regarded by locals, the location at Rue du Bailli 4 a simple storefront with just a few square meters to stand, Teddy L is perhaps the least “English Friendly” patisserie in the city of Brussels and yet with a perpetual smile on the young clerk’s face the in-store experience could not have been more pleasant, a total of five items showing strong evidence that old-world craftsmanship will rarely fail.
Certainly not sporting the glitz of Wittamer nor the scope of Le Saint Aulaye, Teddy L features the craftsmanship of Boulanger Teddy Lowy and with bargain prices that seem downright strange in the setting of such quality the temptation to order one of everything was only resisted due to a day full of eating, those traveling in a group strongly recommended to bring about €20 to try nearly a dozen different pastries.
Not the glamorous sort of jewels sold by modern shops, the goods all golden with the focus on texture and taste as opposed to pictures for Instagram, a tasting of Teddy L should undoubtedly begin with laminated viennoiserie including both the Pain de Chocolat and Almond Croissant, each with buttery arches enveloping just the right amount of filling with the dark chocolate pockets particularly likely to please.
Taking no short cuts in constructing the rest of the goods, an almond cake using only a small amount of Frangipane to bind together butter, eggs, sugar and nuts, an equally impressive bite was found in lightly charred apples atop puff pastry, a “save the best for last” sort of situation found when teeth were plunged into what appeared to be a simple Walnut Pie that was, in fact, bolstered by top-notes of coffee.
Pineapple, Passion Fruit, Meringue, Sage Ice Cream, Pate de Choux
Macaron Cart – Chocolate-Ginger, Saffron, Speculoos, Roses, Olive Oil, White Chocolate and Yuzu
Toqued by Christophe Hardiquest with a lovely location in the pricy outskirts of Brussels, Bon Bon has been slowly building on concept of “boundless exploration, sharing and complicity” ever since opening, the accolades arriving from Michelin, Gault & Millau and Grand Tables du Monde with each passing season as the restaurant continues to evolve its experience into something more than just ‘fine dining.’
Considered by many to be the best restaurant in Brussels, the day of this meal a truly daunting one with a workers strike causing a nearly two-hour traffic delay en route, it was nearly forty-five minutes after 19h00 that arrival was finally made at the white brick building on Avenue de Tervueren, the staff completely understanding of the situation and as pleasant as they were accommodating with a table in full view of the open kitchen still ready in waiting.
Offering several tasting menus in addition to a la carte selections, the spontaneous discovery a nine-course experience flanked on each end with no less than a dozen canapes, amuses, mignardises, candies and breads it was with little indecision that the decision was made to partake in anything Chef Hardiquest and his team felt like creating, the next two-hundred minutes well invested with steady nearly every bite a resounding success and very few delays in pacing.
Reportedly upping their style in recent years, small touches like a selection of elegant cutlery for meats and purse stools styled as sheep not seen by a friend who dined there one year ago, the tasting at Bon Bon began with a flurry of small bites including a nutty ham and fried fritters as well as savory marshmallows and meringue, the most memorable taste a briny croquette of Sardine and Herring as well as the liquid nitrogen charged Radish with spicy Smoked Cream and Peas.
Serving two styles of bread, the leaflets of lavash served from a folder with pureed eggplant while toothsome Sourdough comes with soft house-blended butter in four forms, the start of the tasting is announced by delivery of a “toolkit” containing everything from Chopsticks and Tweezers to polished forks and knives, the Chef’s signature oysters soon to arrive with each perfectly trimmed circle’s brine punctuated by vodka, cucumbers and cream.
A progressive tasting if there ever was one, the lighter flavors leading effortlessly into red meats with a vegetable-centered focus that looks seasonally at the surrounding lands, courses such as the Carpaccio of Langoustine were beautiful expressions of taste, color and texture, the White Asparagus somehow striking a balance between Anchovy and Rhubarb while a particularly poignant potage of garlic was reined in by smoky pork Chantilly.
Larger in portions than the standard upscale tasting, the longest menu potentially overwhelming those of modest appetites – or at least those unable to resist the bread – Cod Loin served with a sidecar of Brandade fritters delivered perhaps the most invigorating dish of the night with several beans and peas beneath Nasturtium and Basil, tender potato dumplings arriving next so light that they threatened to raise off the plate against gravity with a base of Black Olive and Garlic Flower crown.
Told that a “bonus” course would be served as “thanks for visiting from so far away,” the menu’s original climax of Smoked Wild Pigeon with Shallot Mousseline was another stunning offering before another signature of “Burned” Beef, Sweet Onions, Artichokes and Parsley.
Falling short on dessert, not for lack of trying but because Passion Fruit’s cloying flavor is rarely something that lends to the balance seen in Hardiquest’s savory plates, it was with good fortune that Bon Bon’s elegant Macaron Cart was there to immediately rectify the situation, options including Olive Oil, Chocolate-Ginger, Saffron, Speculoos, Roses and White Chocolate with Yuzu each topped with a dollop of cream or fruit plus garnishes before ending the night with a bittersweet finale of Black Walnut Pie.
Founded by Mary Delluc in 1919 and quickly becoming a favorite of royals, sophisticates, philosophers and the bourgeois as a result of location as well as passion for creativity and craft, there may be no Chocolatier more revered than Mary in the history of Belgium, the “Certified Royal Warrant Holder of Belgium” still branded on her boxes in the year 2016.
Truly an intriguing story, the chocolates and confections still not sold in shops outside Belgium with the title of Purveyor to the Royal House of Belgium twice renewed as recently as 1994, Mary Chocolates are now sold in a handful of stores ranging from the Capital to Bruges and Antwerp and following the same artisan traditions now as in history the collection has undoubtedly grown, though classic flavors and smooth textures still predominate.
Largely focused on flat pralines with Truffles and elongated “langues de chat” offered in some variety as well, each Mary store features art deco style and a notable degree of femininity, the prices a touch higher than other nearby shops but undoubtedly justified by the ingredient quality and each confection’s purity.
Custom tailored to serve its well-heeled clientele while also well suited to the tourist, Mary’s staff is without doubt one of the most friendly in a city full of competition and whether one is interested in just a few pieces or a box made to their liking the discourse is likely to cover a wide range of recommendations, €15 netting a total of sixteen items running the gamut from single origin tablets to rich ganache, creamy caramel and a genre-redefining marzipan pieces.
Brussels Waffle with Speculoos Ice Cream and Chantilly
Liege Waffle with Chocolate and Chantilly
Biscuits – Speculoos, Sable, Chocolate Sable, Pure Butter and Frangipane, Pistachio Sable, Patience, Bernardin, Raisin, Palmier, Feuilletine
Biscuits – Sugar Brioche, Cherry, Royale, Pain a la Grecque, Dark Chocolate Speculoos, Milk Chocolate Speculoos, Vanilla Speculoos
Located on Rue du Beurre since 1829 and known best for creating the “Spectaculoos” Speculoos found in everything from biscuits and spreads to chocolate, cheesecake and ice cream throughout Belgium, a visit to Maison Dandoy was actually comprised of two distinct stops on Monday afternoon in Brussels, the first at the shop with an upstairs Tea Room on Rue Charles Buls with a follow-up at the original where more treats were consumed.
Perhaps Brussels’ most famous Artisan, their shops now spreading to Antwerp, Bruges and more, Maison Dandoy’s story is told by way of the website or, in the case of the Tea Room, within the menu and although cookies remain the shops mainstay there is no doubt that the made-to-order waffles have gained their own following, both Liege and Brussels style turned out hot from fresh batter while several styles of shakes, sundaes and beverages round out the well-culled but substantial menu offerings.
Still raining at this point, the decision to dine in rather than taking items to the street carrying a surcharge while the restaurant also refuses to serve water from the tap, it was moments after seating that the lone server greeted each diner and quickly deciding to go all-in with one of each waffle the kitchen is equally expeditious, the Brussels version arriving crisp and perfect with slowly melting housemade icecream and whipped topping while the Liege version was hot, sticky and well pocketed with melting sugar crystals topped in dark chocolate and even more Chantilly.
Settling the tab, surely more pricey than places like Waffle Factory, Le Funambule or other grab n’ gos but still inexpensive for such a snack, it was downstairs to the shop that browsing continued, a young lady at the counter telling me a more comprehensive collection was available at the original location and thus leading to a short walk.
At this point around 16h00, dinner plans at 19h30, it was to warm smiles that entry was made to the rustic looking shop on Rue au Beurre and greeted by a pair of clerks with samples a taste of the Pain a la Grecque was quick to sell customers hook, line and sinker, the rest of the cookies and confections no less compelling and charged by weight likely to lead most to an order exceeding €20.
With nowhere to sit in the narrow shop and atelier it was with three bags packed that options were taken to the car and opting to enjoy the items in conjunction with chocolates back at the hotel one would be hard pressed to name any cookie that was less than excellent the sables like crispy dollops of butter while brioche, Palmiers and Feuilletine reached high standards set by the French, each style of Speculoos as good as the last with a best bite found in the original topped by a tablet of Laurent Gerbaud’s Dark Chocolate.
Fresh King Crab Bisque with Cold Coffee Cream / Gazpacho of Red Beet and Cherry, Smoked Eels, Belgian Goat Cheese
Spring Pea Cheesecake, Cannelloni of Yellow Squash, Garlic Flowers, Pomelo and Pomegranate Cream
Crab Brain Chawanmushi / King Crab Salad with Avocado, Cream of Black Sesame
36-Month Aged Parmigianino-style Swiss, Potato and Corn Cream, Green Asparagus, Jamon Serrano
Smoked Hamachi, Daikon, Squid, Fermented Soy
Squid on the Embers, Eggplant Mille-feuille, Miso, Cubed Daikon, Dashi
Breast of Bresse Chicken, Green Herbs Emulsion, Cream of Squash, Hay-smoked Pommes Puree
Fire roasted Cherries, Honey-Rosemary Ice Cream
Strawberries and Rhurbarb Tartlette, Cream of Lemon, Rose Leaves
Cherry Gateaux Basque, Black Cherries
Ushered into a new era by Chef David Martin, a man of considerable talent with another more casual restaurant called Bozar downtown, La Paix has received considerable praise from in-the-know gourmands ever since evolving from a traditional Brasserie, and although several dishes from steak to offal are still readily available from the space dating to 1892 there is no doubt that Martin’s pursuit of “honest” cuisine is best experienced by way of the Chef’s Tasting Menu.
Aged in its appearance from the outside, those unaware most likely to simply see the corner as nothing more than another bar and brasserie, entry to La Paix speaks to the levity imparted in dishes with strong Asian influences and although Martin himself hails from Southern France originally the origami decorations, serviceware and even tables speak to an interest in things found East.
Offering several a la carte options, a lunch menu as well as several degustations, those interested in experiencing all La Paix has to offer are well advised to invest three hours into the 8-course “Menu Surprise” that sometimes comes straight from the carte but more often direct from the team of only six in the kitchen.
Not as bustling as other Michelin starred spots, the casual ambiance and higher prices seeing a total of six-tables filled at lunch, service at La Paix comes from a two-person front-of-house and given the skeleton crew the delays from the kitchen can occasionally be lengthy, though free WiFi, the open kitchen and a tank of 5-6kg King Crabs from Scandinavia provide for entertainment while freshly made bread with three hand-crafted butters continuously offer temptation between plates of food.
Starting with a duo of soup and salad, the bold gazpacho eating more like panna cotta than an actual potage, Martin makes his intent-to-wow known early on by way of the Fresh King Crab Bisque charged with a tableside ISI-shot of Cold Coffee Cream, spoonfuls offering juxtapositions in terms of taste, texture and temperature that continued to a brilliant opening act of Cheesecake comprised of soft goat cheese beneath a gel of Spring Peas with a warm stack of Yellow Squash that dances amongst citrus and Pomegranate cream.
Open only during weekdays, a large gourmet center driving business from across the way, course two continued to show-off the enormous crustaceans in the tank by way of a duo of Crab Brain Chawanmushi and chilled King Crab Salad, the hot custard perhaps the most delicate and flavorful ever experienced while the creamy Avocado expectedly paired well with the sweet meat and cream of Black Sesame.
Shaving “Swiss Aged 36-Months to resemble a Parmigianino” like a truffle for course three the hits continued with Potato and Corn Cream decorated in Green Asparagus and nutty ham, the follow-up of smoked Hamachi, snappy Squid and Fermented Soy with Daikon unfortunately not doing any favors to the fish’s texture while far better execution was experienced from a steak of Calamari straight off the embers with a cube of Daikon and Eggplant stack bathed in Dashi.
Continuing both light and seasonal for the final savory, a roulade of Bresse Chicken immensely juicy beneath crispy skin with green Herbs, Creamed Squash and smoky Pommes puree, there was a noted slowdown from the staff as the same young men responsible for savories transitioned to pastry, a simple bowl of two and a half stewed cherries taking nearly forty minutes to present with a small quenelle of Honey-Rosemary Ice Cream.
Putting together dessert two more expediently, the Strawberry-Rhurbarb Tartlette a concept that would be seen repeatedly at fine dining establishments over the course of the next six days, La Paix’s version did a nice job of highlighting the vegetable’s tartness through Citrus and Roses, the ‘mignardises’ actually the best of the sweets as Chef Martin offers each guest a slice of Cherry Gateaux Basque, his father’s favorite dessert showing that history still has its place at Rue Ropsey Chaudron 49.