Belgium – and Antwerp in particular – is home to some of the world’s finest chocolate, but there are few places where it is more in evidence than at the sumptuous temple of cocoa, The Chocolate Line. Set on the ground floor of the rococo Paleis op de Meir – an 18th-century palace once owned by Napoleon – it is the brainchild of self-proclaimed “shock‑o-latier” Dominique Persoone (first picture), who is, by turns, a wildly innovative chef and a committed culinary traditionalist. “I am known for my bizarre flavour combinations”, he says, “but classic chocolates can be wonderful and I love to create perfect hazelnut pralines too.”
Drawing upon his training under Pierre Hermé, as well as on the exchange of ideas with friends Heston Blumenthal (Persoone is a member of Blumental’s Fat Duck think tank) and elBulli’s Ferran Adrià, Persoone has brought his cooking experience – and exuberance – to confectionery since 1992.
In this frescoed, opulent emporium unexpected pairings include bitter ganache with wasabi marzipan; white chocolate with basil, sun-dried tomato and olive chutney; almond pralines with fried onions; and milk chocolates with crispy bacon and quinoa (examples in second picture).
For Christmas, the shop’s elegant cases are lined with gold boxes of bonbons and truffles (both €66 per kg) and its signature Chocolate Shooter kits (€45): Plexiglas snuff dispensers filled with cocoa, fresh mint and ginger that were originally conceived for members of The Rolling Stones.
Stunning chocolate sculptures run the gamut from kitsch (skeletons, €4.50) to traditional (St Nicholas, €3 to €50, depending on the size), and purists will love the big slabs of milk, white and varying cocoa percentages of dark chocolate (all €35 per kg) that are often studded with red fruit.
Persoone’s personal favourites are the Aperos (€64 per kg) – shiny green, melt‑in-the‑mouth squares with passion fruit, lime and vodka – and impossibly delicious bars of caramel ganache filled with Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar and pine nuts (€4). But the common thread in all The Chocolate Line’s offerings is the quality of the chocolate itself. Persoone grows his own cocoa on his Mexican plantation and travels throughout Latin America to source “indigenous, high-quality beans with explosive flavour”. His commitment to fair trade has garnered a clientele that includes the finest restaurants in Belgium and the Netherlands and he is one of only three chocolatiers in the Michelin guide.
A visit to this gilt-trimmed shop at Christmas is a particular treat, with Persoone himself often overseeing the making of decorative ornaments that hold chocolate money – a Belgian tradition – and can be personalised and wrapped with festive ribbons. “I love experimenting with unorthodox flavours,” he explains, “but Easter and Christmas are about preserving wonderful, family traditions.”
For exquisite, handcrafted chocolate – whether classic or with a rock ’n’ roll edge – look no further than this royally eclectic emporium.