If Brussels had a perfume, it would definitely be chocolate!
When you arrive in Brussels, close your eyes... and breathe in the magical scents permeating the neighbourhood of its master chocolatiers. Melt before the manons, truffles, mendiants and other chocolate delights that are bought and sold in the innumerable shops all around you. Try your hand at one of the many workshops just waiting to teach you the art of making chocolate delicacies. Have a party with your colleagues or friends in the chocolate shops that open their doors and their hearts to you... there’s even something for the very youngest among us. Discover chocolate's most intimate secrets in the city’s museums. Give yourself a head-to-toe chocolate experience. Pure bliss…
The story of the little coco bean that became praline
Ten years after Christopher Columbus arrived in America, the cocoa bean set about its conquest of Europe. This rare bean, more precious than gold, had been the exclusive preserve of the most powerful rulers and kings. As the industry developed, it became more readily available to ordinary Europeans. The love story between Brussels and chocolate was about to begin. Jean Neuhaus, a pharmacist, developed an original technique to mask the unpleasant taste of medicines by coating them in a thin layer of chocolate. In 1912, he had the gourmet-inspired idea of replacing the medicines with... fresh cream. The praline was born! And to protect these delicate pralines, his wife created a cardboard package designed to look like a jewellery box: the ballotin. One hundred years later, a ballotin box filled with pralines is always the most popular gift to give or receive in Brussels.
Walks to relish
The Sablon district alone has an enormous range of chocolatiers to visit. Pierre Marcolini is one of the leaders, reinventing the industry with his intensely flavoured, exciting chocolate creations. Wittamer is still the master of chocolate art. Close by, don’t forget to visit these chocolate boutiques: Belvas and its 100% organic and fair trade pralines, the mythical manons of the historic house of Léonidas and Passion Chocolat, which aims to rediscover lost flavours.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
The Centre neighbourhood is the historic cradle of the Brussels chocolatier’s art. It was in the Galeries Royales that the praline was born, thanks to the ingenuity of Jean Neuhaus. Here too you will find Corné 1932 and Corné Port-Royal in a magnificent Art Nouveau style boutique and Mary, a historic establishment that offers over 70 different types of chocolate ranging from mousse to the justly famous manon.
In the Grand-Place area
This neighbourhood teems with big names from the chocolate world. Jean-Philippe Darcis suggests that his chocolate should be accompanied by a (very) good wine, champagne or whisky. Pierre Ledent‘s amazing creations bear the delicious names of Rosa, Gigi and Pamela. Bruyerre sells delightful handmade pralines famous for their centres; and Godiva, which is sold in over 80 countries, will charm you with its exquisite classic chocolates with that special, elusive taste that you can’t quite pin down. Jean Galler manages to combine the renowned Brussels chocolate with the cartoon world with its fun langues de chat biscuits designed by Philippe Geluck.
Mont des Arts & Sainte Catherine
In the extremely trendy Sainte-Catherine district, an irresistible aroma will guide your path to Frederic Blondeel‘s shop. He is passionate about chocolate-making and a roaster extraordinaire and while you are there, give in to temptation and order an ice cream or an exceptional hot chocolate in his café. Are you fond of orangettes and other fruit sweets? Then head for the Mont des Arts, to Laurent Gerbaud‘s boutique-atelier and try to resist his kumquats, ginger and pears hidden beneath a coating of the darkest grand cru… Quite irresistible.
Other treasures you can find in Brussels
In the Bailli-Bascule neighbourhood, everyone is talking about the newcomer, Benoit Nihant. He is a true craftsman who travels to the farthest corners of the world to select the very best cocoa beans. He roasts them himself with the utmost dedication to detail and then proceeds to turn them into haute-couture chocolates, one of whose biggest fans is Lionel Rigolet, the chef of the multi-starred restaurant "Comme chez Soi", for whom he has produced two unique creations.
Between Flagey and the la Chasse district, the Vandenhende boutique offers sweet treats made from local produce: pralines with honey from the Parc du Cinquantenaire and raspberry-flavoured ganaches au Cuberdon. Jérôme Grimonpon, who was voted best Artisan Chocolatier in Belgium in 2012, creates a different praline every month made from seasonal products in his unique shop in Uccle.
Workshops and other discoveries
Do it yourself and experience the tastiest fun in Brussels. It’s your choice: tasting grands crus and making truffles or mini mendiants at Laurent Gerbaud. Take part in an interactive demonstration and discover the extraordinary history of cocoa and create a praline at Planète Chocolat. At the Mary workshops, you can experience the conquest of the new world projected on a giant screen. And for enlightened amateurs, Concept Chocolate will get your taste buds tingling with their "Vin & chocolat" workshop. In fact you are spoilt for choice… so check your diaries and make a date!
Try these museums
Two museums will teach you everything you need to know about the famous cocoa bean: the Belgian Chocolate Village - located in the delicious former biscuiterie-chocolaterie Victoria, just a stone’s throw from the Koekelberg basilica - is Belgium's largest museum dedicated to chocolate. Near the Grand-Place, stop by Choco-Story Brussels, a must for anyone who loves Belgian chocolate.
Chocolate sauces of every kind
So you thought that chocolate was just a little square of sugary happiness that melts on the tongue, or something to flavour a cup of hot milk? You are in for a surprise. Chocolate is like a Swiss knife; there are a 1000 ways to use it:
It can make you beautiful: added to the most advanced new cosmetics it will leave your skin glowing and fresh. You can be enveloped in chocolate for a delicious massage. Top chefs have brought it to the table, with a new take on the most famous dishes in Brussels cuisine. So, just for you, here is the recipe for the "wonderful Brussels carbonnades au chocolat"…. Try it!
1kg of excellent stewing beef
750ml red wine
40g dark chocolate with 70%+ cocoa
250g smoked streaky bacon or pancetta
2 cloves garlic
1 carrot, sliced
1 bouquet garni
1 whole clove
4 soup spoons of flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat some olive oil in a large pan and brown the meat on all sides. Sprinkle with flour and mix well (scraping up the meat juices). Add the chopped bacon or pancetta and cook for a further 2-3 min. Add the wine, onions and minced garlic, carrot, bouquet garni and clove. Cover and cook for 2 hours on moderate heat. Add the chocolate and continue to cook for a further 2 minutes. Check the seasoning and serve hot with home-made chips (French fries). Bon appétit!
Let someone be your guide
If you’d rather get help from the experts, there are several enthusiastic and knowledgeable guides who will gladly share the history of the little cocoa bean with you, along with the secrets of Brussels’ greatest chocolatiers. Discoveries, tastings and guaranteed fun... just ask for the programme!
Belgian chocolate owes its fame to the dedication of Belgian chocolate craftsmen to cocoa butter. Here we offer you a selection of the best chocolate makers in Brussels. Treat yourself and the people you care about.