Brussels: 'If you decide to go on a diet, leave'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

There's more to Belgian cuisine than waffles. Lena Corner takes a culinary tour of the capital as it hosts a 12-month food festival

It has been said that Belgian cuisine is the quality of the French, served in the generous portions of the Germans. While we know the Belgians are pretty good at making chocolate, beer and moules-frites, the country still doesn't have anything like the international gastronomic reputation of France. This year, Brussels is hoping to redress that by hosting an ambitious 12-month festival of food called Brusselicious (00 32 2513 8940; brusselicious.be) to shine a light on its culinary credentials.

The obsession with food was clear from the moment I stepped off the Eurostar. Intermittently the air was thickened with the sweet smell of warming waffles, while the city's rich culinary history came written on the cobbled laneways that wind around the centre – Spice Street, Butcher Street, Cheese Street. "Brussels is a place you eat well," my guide Didier Rochette told me. "If you decide to go on a diet, leave."

The obvious place to start any walk here is the magnificent central square, Grand'Place. Take the Rue au Beurre (Butter Street) on the north side and half way up on the left you'll find Dandoy biscuit shop (00 32 2511 0326; biscuiteriedandoy.be). Here you'll find macaroons, pain à la grecque and much-loved Belgian speculoos, the buttery biscuits made with ginger and cinnamon.

Continue past the Bourse, which features engravings by a young Rodin, and turn right on to Rue de Tabora where an unsavoury looking corridor opens up to the left. "These passages may look like they are heading to a brothel," said Didier, "but ignore them and you'll miss something." Corridors such as this were built to create streets behind streets in the compact city. At the end of this one was a cloak-and-dagger pub, La Bécasse (00 32 2511 0006; alabecasse.com), which looked like something from the Prohibition era. The house beer was Lambic, brewed in the city's Cantillon Brewery, which is deliciously sweet – a little like cider – and served in ceramic jugs big enough for 10 people to share.

Turning left up Rue Marché aux Poulets, we came across Corica (00 32 2511 8852; corica.be) which any Belgian will tell you is the place to come in Brussels for coffee. Corica claims to have beans from every coffee-producing country in the world and the stack of coffee sacks labelled with the flags, suggested they're probably right.

We crossed the busy Boulevard Anspach and up Rue Ste-Catherine. Here, Charli (00 32 2513 6332; charliboulangerie.com) is a recently opened bakery dedicated to the concept of delivering the best ingredients in the greenest way possible. Everything here is produced from a modern glass kitchen which sits in the centre of the store, so things go from oven to plate in a matter of seconds. As you leave Charli check out the Champigros next door (00 32 2511 7498; champigros.be). I counted 15 different type of mushroom in the window.

This is also the place to find good seafood. Noordzee (00 32 2513 1192; vishandelnoordzee.be), on the corner of Place Ste-Catherine, is usually filled with Belgians standing at the counter feasting on caracoles – sea snails boiled in a spicy sauce. On the other side of the square is Brasserie Jaloa (00 32 2512 1831; jaloa.com, closed Sunday and Monday), one of the best seafood restaurants in the city.

Walk behind the church, and double back over Anspach, keeping the Opera House to your left. Turn right into Rue des Fripiers, left on to Rue Grétry and up to Rue des Bouchers. Here, the narrow cobbled streets are known as the "belly of Brussels" and the maître d's stand around hassling you to come inside. The only place worth stopping at is Fromagerie Langhendries (00 32 2512 2218; cheese-langhendries.be) on Rue de la Fourche. Here, great big stinking rounds sit on wooden shelves across the back of the shop, with 300 different cheeses to choose from.

Carry on up Rue de Bouchers, cutting through Galeries Saint-Hubert and a little way up you will come to Délices et Caprices (00 32 2512 1451; the-belgian-beer-tasting-shop.be; open Mon-Thurs), one of the city's favourite beer shops. It's run by Pierre Zuber, who has around 200 beers, which he lets you taste before you buy.

Cross Place d'Espagne, go right, past the museums of Art Hill, until you come to Rue Haute (High Street), one of the oldest streets in the city. Here at the bottom is Place de la Chapelle, where we stopped to sample another Belgian delicacy – chips. There used to be a fritkot (chip kiosk) on every street corner, but fewer remain today. In November, as part of Brusselicious, there will be a competition to discover the best in the city. The one at Place de la Chapelle is a favourite of Belgian tennis hero Justine Henin-Hardenne.

Feeling happily sated we crossed Boulevard de L'Empereur and Place de Dinant-plein and wound our way through the backstreets to the Manneken Pis, the little bronze boy urinating into a fountain. It's a bit of a tourist trap, but Le Poechenellekelder (00 32 2511 9262) just to the left is a cosy bar with a serious beer menu. There was just time to sup a strong trappist ale before heading up L'Etuve, past the enormous Tintin mural, and back to the Grand'Place where we started.

 

Fresh cuts

Patrick Roger, one of France's best-known chocolatiers (00 32 2514 7046: patrickroger.com), recently joined the big names in Belgian chocolate clustered around Place du Grand Sablon. The store is worth checking out for the life-size chocolate gorilla in the window alone.

Laurent Gerbaud is another newcomer (00 32 2511 1602; chocolatsgerbaud.be). He is one of just two chocolatiers (the other being Pierre Marcolini, 00 32 2514 1206, marcolini.be) who doesn't buy his chocolate from major Belgian producer Callebaut, so theirs both taste genuinely different. Try the gare aux noisette – a chocolate ball that explodes in your mouth leaving behind secondary notes of salty nuts.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Lena Corner travelled with Railbookers (020-3327 2439; railbookers.com) which offers two-night packages to Brussels from £229 per person, including B&B at the Royal Windsor Hotel, and return train travel from London St Pancras.

 

Visiting there

Brusselicious (00 32 2513 8940; brusselicious.be) runs until the end of the year. A city tram has been given a makeover as a dining car, serving menus from the city's star chefs as it trundles through the city. The two-hour circuit costs €75 (£62) per person.

 

Go guided

Guided tours can be booked through the tourist office (020-7307 7738; visitbrussels.be)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager required for ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator A...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent