City wanderings - and a pilgrimage to some of the best eating and drinking spots in Brussels. Or maybe not eating or drinking - ah, oh well.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Frederic Blondeel

I know what you're thinking: lucky Bec, living in Belgium. I bet you buy sachets of chocolates whenever you want to, and slip them into your bag to eat surreptitiously at the bus shelter or at your desk.  But no, I protest, that's simply not true - cue the sympathy violin!  The only time Bec visits chocolatiers is to buy presents for others or to show others where to buy chocolates for others.  It seems a bit mean to buy just for yourself!  The best Belgian chocolates need to be savoured and shared, drawn delicately into your mouth so you can linger over the filling.  Often the shops don't even bother slipping a card in the box to identify what you've bought.  This encourages you to take your time to work it out for yourself.  Now, is that basil, thyme, earl grey or rose?

I realised I was beginning to appreciate chocolate, perhaps even to become a connoisseur, when I opened the door of Chocolatier Vandenhende up in La Chasse, where the scent of cocoa nearly sent me into a swoon (and then later his fondant au chocolat was praised by anyone I allowed near it.)  And when I first got my hands on a cup of molten chocolate in Frederic Blondeel's shop.  There are dégustation tables for sampling the various hot chocolates, including the eye-watering Fredericisme; and ice cream creations (including "Belgian Sunshine"); and shelves stocked with rich pastes and jams (think the Charles-Louis raspberry dark chocolate spread: honestly, who could return to Nutella after this?)  J'am jam indeed.

So I think this is it: my favourite chocolatier in Brussels!  And I like Frederic because he's down to earth: works hard and doesn't have time to spend fretting over precise temperature cooling when his kids are also busy helping out in the kitchen or at the counter.

On my first visit I requisition a spare hot chocolate that a departing tour group have carelessly left behind.  I try to explain myself, but the owner says "vous avez raison!"  I ask him what he is most proud of in here.  "My children", he says mischievously.  This is a chocolatier not chasing prizes and not taking it all too seriously.

You can (and I do) spend a lot of money in here.  Last weekend I came for the chocolate counter, intending to choose and prepared to wait.  Alive to the importance of letting his customers choose every chocolate that goes into their 1 or 2 or 5 layered boxes, Frederic doesn't rush us.  Instead he brings out small cups of hot chocolate to thank us for being patient.

Recipients of my Blondeel ballotins understand why this is my favourite.  Sophisticated combinations: caramel and fleur de sel, basil, thyme, oranges and lemons, rose, truffles.  Plenty of choice for those of us less keen on nutty ganaches and spirit-soaked centres (though he has these as well).  This week there's a new addition on the counter: "Would you like to try?" asks Frederic.  I pop a chocolate with melting rose caramel in my mouth.  It's divine; words tumble out in praise.  Frederic seems warmed by this.  He's here in his shop and he cares what we think.  And he's certainly working hard.  You know, next time I'm going to buy some of those caramels just for me.

Quai aux Briques 24,
1000 Brussels
+32 (0)2 502 21 31

Open Sunday to Friday 13:00 to 18:45
Saturday 10:30 to 18:45
The tea room closes slightly earlier.

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