Mons: The culinary king of the hill

Mons puts traditional local specialities at the heart of its cuisine. By Emily Reynolds

With its cobbled streets, ancient churches, beautiful belfry and fine 17th-century houses, Mons gently exudes charm. It is, of course, known the world over for the First World War battle that was fought here, yet today such sombre associations seem a far cry from the university buzz and very go-ahead outlook of the residents. Strikingly positioned at the top of a hill, the old town has been cleverly and carefully preserved, yet stretching out beneath it is a bustling new sector locally termed "Digital Valley". Mons as a whole is gearing up for its role as European Capital of Culture in 2015, when it also aims to launch a green charter for cutting-edge sustainable development.

Tradition, though, is still an enormously important aspect of life here. Every year on Trinity Sunday the population unites for a procession when the relics of the 7th-century Saint Waudru are taken out of Mons cathedral and paraded around the old town in a golden carriage. And of course gourmet traditions are also upheld. A great chocolate festival takes place every March, followed by another celebrating beer in late April or early May.

At whatever time of year you choose to visit, there are plenty of local food specialities to taste. Have a coffee and a macaron de Mons – a particularly crunchy and light meringue confection made with almonds or vanilla. Try the Mons raton car d'or, a pancake filled with local ham, cheese and crème fraiche. Sample soupe montoise, a country potage made with potatoes, leeks and celery. Enjoy a hearty dish of côtes de porc à l'berdouille, pork chops in a dark sauce flavoured with tarragon and gherkins. (You'll tune in to the wry local humour when you learn that berdouille means "mud" in the dialect of the area.)

The best way to see old Mons is to wander along the network of narrow lanes. So browse your way around and take a tasting tour at the same time. Start by visiting local chocolate maker Mon Ami Le Chocolatier (00 324 8491 8672; monamilechocolatier.com) at rue de Nimy 38. It's best to arrive early, since the shop is often shut for afternoon chocolate-making sessions (which guarantee, of course, that the products are very fresh). The quality is exceptional, whether you choose pralines, delicate truffles, or white chocolate with lavender.

Next go south to a great cheese shop, La Fromagerie Vandoorne (0032 6531 8432; fromages.be) at Rue d'Havré 8. The range is generous: try St Feuillien, a semi-hard cheese ripened with local beer of the same name; or sample Fromage Abbaye de Chimay, the product of an old Trappist monastery. Then meander along Rue de la Coupe, perhaps calling in for an ice cream at Le Glacier Devos at number 8.

Before long you'll want to stop at the large and lovely Grand Place. It has been a hub of commerce and politics since at least the 14th century and its magnificence reflects the city's historic status as capital of Hainaut province. Today, the square is lined with cafés spilling on to terraces that are perfect for people watching. Locals tend to gather at No Maison (0032 6531 1111) and L'Excelsior (0032 6536 3452).

Dining options, meanwhile, are a delight. For a chic, youthful vibe head to I Cook (0032 6333 4033; traiteuricook.com) at rue Notre Dame 2 where Mons specialities are given a gourmet twist. Enjoy excellent brasserie food and cool décor at L'Envers (0032 6535 4510; lenvers.net) at Rue de la Coupe 20. For a happy mix of good value and style, make tracks to La Table du Boucher (0032 6531 6838; lucbroutard.be) at Rue d'Havré 49 (three course menus from €35). Alternatively, on Rue du Miroir 23, you'll find a glittering dining place created by a Marie-Antoinette fan at the Salon des Lumières (00 324 7429 2584; salondes lumieres.com), where you can devour crêpes and desserts "inspired by the 18th century".

Gourmet landmark

In the early 1980s when Luc Marchal set up his first restaurant, Mons was not generally applauded for the quality of its cuisine. The son of a pharmacist working near Mons, Marchal realised at an early age that he wanted to become a serious chef. Having trained at catering college in Namur, he was just 22 when he started a grill restaurant in Mons. From simple beginnings he developed a more elaborate style and 25 years ago he established Le Marchal (0032 6531 2402; marchal.be) in a classic old house beautifully located by the cathedral at Rampe St Waudru 4. In doing so, he also became one of the pioneers of fine cuisine in a town that now boasts an impressive number of high-end dining options. Fresh local produce, he says, is of paramount importance in his cooking – and he is always willing to try out new tastes.

Marchal devotes a great deal of energy to searching for just the right ingredients: tomatoes that really taste, potato varieties chosen for particular flavour (he serves blue potato mash with some dishes). He also selects wine and beer with great care – and he even makes a particular sabayon with Grisette from the nearby St Feuillien brewery. Marchal's five-course menu du marché is excellent value, from €35.

 

New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all