Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A weekend of eating (and drinking) in Belgium

Food, glorious, food. It’s possible I actually ate less chocolate in Belgium than I would normally. But I bought more than I have in a long time, at least, in one day. I was far too easily persuaded by the much cheaper prices of the chocolates there than the same chocolate in London. That was my excuse for buying 1.5kg of Valrhona chocolate. Yes, it's French, but it was much cheaper there than it is here. 1kg of that was in a single block that I intend to use for cooking. Maybe.

On top of these fabulous deals there were a few gems that you can’t get in London. I ignored the ones you could, and I also ignored all the other “chocolate shops” with samey products. I would stick my head in (sometimes not even that) and do a quick assessment of whether it was worth my time. I don’t think it was too intolerable for my ever patient traveling partner. He shouldn’t complain, I did get all the boxes made up with two of pretty much everything.

I understand now why one of the people who came on my tour suggested I should run tours to Belgium. In some ways, it's pointless because that's what people go there for anyway, but having now seen for myself the sheer number of chocolate shops... It is quite overwhelming and quite difficult to discern what is quality and what is not. Unfortunately price, though a reliable indicator, does not always suffice.

The chocolate museum, behind the Grand Plac, was fantastic. It was really interesting and the enthusiasm of the chocolatier doing the demonstration was wonderful. I love passion in people, which is a further benefit for being part of the "chocolate world", people in the industry usually have so much passion for their vocation.

Travelling by Eurostar was brilliant. We arrived in time to leave our bags at the hotel and go wandering for supper and beer. We found went to a brasserie and ordered as tourist-Belgian as we could: moules naturale with frites, Belgian beers, followed by waffles with chocolate sauce and ice cream. Saturday we caught the train to Brugges for our extravaganza at the three-starred Michelin restaurant, De Karmeliet. We couldn’t ignore the tasting menu. Seven courses. The cheese course procuring the full cheese trolley (le chariot de fromages!). Before we chose our menu option we were given five amuse bouche each, which included a tartlette of tomato, basil and cheese, an olive friand, mackeral with salsa and a langoustine mousse. These were a great incentive to order the full degustation menu.

Our seventh dessert course turned out to be first a stand with 7 petit fours each, then a plate of three apple desserts (including sorbet, pastry, icecream, foam, mousse, crisp and rice pudding) and finally they whisked away this empty plate and returned with the chocolate construction below:

We were ridiculously and deliciously full, and we still have kilos of chocolate to work our way through. Now you might see why we bought to take home, rather than sampling too much while we were there!


The Chocolate Line in Brugge was inspiring. I get the feeling the main chocolatier doesn't make all of the multitude of chocolates he offers but I bet he makes these ones himself:

The one at the front is Fried Onions. Yes, fried onions. It was pretty hideous to be truthful. I wasn't a big fan of the Saffron Curry either (but that's partly because I don't love white chocolate). The Wasabi was interesting, and really well balanced. The Black Olive, Sundried Tomato and Basil was less appealing but provoking nonetheless. His better chocolates were some not featured in this image. The passionfruit, the raspberry and some of his pralines. Plaudits for his adventurousness though!

Pierre Marcolini in Brussels (on the grand sablon):

He is the only chocolatier in Brussels to make his own couveture from the bean. Fantastic chocolates. His nut-encrusted truffles were particularly moreish.

Others in Brussels worth going to (that are harder to find in the UK):
Wittamer for their square ganaches and raspberry hearts (ignore the truffles in hard shells) and Galler (though you can find them in Harrods Chocolate Hall there are a few extra treats you won't find in the UK yet).

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