I’ve been rather quiet over the last few days, which is down to a visit to see friends in Brussels. I didn’t really go to any of the tourist attractions unless they just happened to be on my way somewhere, as the entire visit revolved around food, drinks and socialising. This weekend of simple objectives proved to be the right call, it the weather was exceptionally hot. Clear blue skies and scorching!
Rather than trying separate posts for each thing, I’ve just put it all together. It reads little like a wandering stream of consciousness, but I hope it makes some sense!
As you can see, the more “traditional” side of Brussels. The plaque honours the birthplace of Audrey Hepburn, although most visitors miss this as it is located on a side street, away from the main attractions. There is also the spire of the town hall, a traditional Brussels building and the royal palace. I promise, all these were seen on the way from a brunch to meeting for drinks in the centre of town!
To balance these tourist highlights, a few shots capturing beer, cartoons, art noveau and more beer. I would have included frites, but it was just waaaaay too hot to even think about eating them at the weekend.
Aside from eating, I also went along to Couleur Cafe, a large annual world music festival in Brussels. Just grab a table in the sunshine, and take in the music, popping off to grab something from one of the many food stands, which seemed to cover off everywhere in Africa and quite a bit of South America and Asia. Good fun as the day turned from hot sunshine into a cool night.
But back to the promised run-down of food shopping and eating activities in Brussels. There were a few places that I wanted to check out while I was over. I did also have lunches and coffees in some of my old haunts, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to take pictures. Sorry! So it’s just a few choice shops this time round.
The first is Maison Renardy. This is a small family-run shop and café, nestled in one of the back streets of the Ixelles neighbourhood, sandwiched between the flashy Avenue Louise and the European Quarter. They sell a range of cakes and macarons, chocolates, jams and a large selection of teas (black, green and herbal), so a perfect hunting ground for slightly unusual gifts. The shop itself is cute – very simple, with display cases and shelves with dozens of varieties of tea, and seating for those that want coffee and instant gratification from their cake or chocolate. What I really liked was how peaceful this place was – two ladies gossiping in the corner and a mother sharing a strawberry tart with her very excited young daughter. Such a contrast to the crush you experience in the rather more hectic chocolatiers in the centre.
And the products? I liked the range of chocolates on offer (a nice selection of classic flavours, which taste great), and I bought a jar of their utterly amazing chocolate praline spread. Honestly, it is to die for. Rich, smooth and fragrant like roasted hazelnuts. This really is a must-buy item! I also picked up a couple of packets of tea (one green, one hibiscus flower). I plan to use these for iced tea over the summer, as it just seems to get hotter by the day. All in all, Renardy is a great little shop, and while it is a little bit out-of-the-way, if you do find yourself in the area, it is worth stopping by. For the chocolate praline spread if nothing else.
Next on the list was Mmmmh!. Strange name, but we’re willing to overlook that. They have run a cookery school in Brussels for quite some time (which my friends tell me is worth trying), and they opened a cookshop a couple of years ago. It has an extensive range of niche food products (from hard-to-find herbs and spices to specialist baking and cookery ingredients) and very good kitchen equipment. After browsing here, a number of my Ikea utensils are looking a little bit sad, but I don’t think I have the heart to throw them out until they give up the ghost. But Mmmmh! really does seem to have something to satisfy just about every odd culinary desire you could have.
I was sadly limited by how much I could carry back to London on the train, so I came away with a bit of on odd assortment of goodies. Vibrant, organic food colourings, quality Italian hazelnut paste (for ice-cream!), sambal, a silicone tray for madelines and a rather odd kit to make “flavoured pearls” for use in cocktails. I don’t really know what I would do with this last object, but it looked so exciting, I just had to buy it. This really is the sort of place that I could browse for hours at a time. I have made a mental list of things I want next time I come to visit.
Another bonus of Mmmmh! is how long it is open – until 23.00 each weekday and Saturday, and until 19.00 on Sunday. No excuse not to pick up that essential ingredient or kitchen utensil!
Finally, and located rather helpfully across from Mmmmh!, is the Zaabär chocolate shop. Handy!
I don’t remember Zaabär from when I lived in Brussels (I suspect it existed, but it was not at its current location), but their thing is chocolate paired with the various spices and exotic tastes of the world. Under a little time pressure, I was not able to spend too long here, and in the end bought just a couple of bars, one with pistachios, and another flavoured with star anise. These come in attractive packaging, making them perfect gifts too. The store itself if large and you get the chance to see them at work, so you know what’s happened to get the chocolate into your pretty little packet. Nice!
So, that’s it! No restaurants or recipes to share today, but I’m about to head into the kitchen right now. Sorry if you don’t like spoilers, but tomorrow’s post will be madelines using the new tray!
Maison Renardy, 111 Chaussée de Wavre, 1050 Brussels. Tel: +32 (0)2 514 30 17.
Mmmmh!, 92 Chausée de Charleroi, 1060 Brussels. Tel: +32 (0)2 534 23 40.
Zaabär, 125 Chausée de Charleroi, 1060 Brussels. Tel: +32 (0) 2 533 95 80.
LondonEats locations map here.