How to spend the perfect weekend in Brussels

Chocolatier Pierre Marcolini shares his insider’s guide to what to see and where to eat

Pierre Marcolini at the Magritte Museum in Brussels
Pierre Marcolini at the Magritte Museum in Brussels | Image: Magali Delporte

“Every day, including Saturday, I wake at 5am, which my wife Valérie finds very annoying, so I read the newspapers on my iPad until she wakes – unless our 18-month-old baby girl stirs first. 

We live in a flat in Ixelles, which is like a village even though it is in the city centre; it reminds me of how Brussels was when I was growing up here. I have a cup of coffee but no breakfast, because then I drive to my workshop and I need a neutral mouth to taste ingredients. There is nobody else about, so it’s a great time to finalise recipes. 

At noon I meet my wife and daughter at Chez Richard, which serves Belgian food in a calm, Belgian atmosphere. We have croquettes de crevettes, croque-monsieurs and a dish of bone marrow – fantastic with Côtes du Rhône, which has a note of chocolate you cannot find in any other wine

Chocolate is my passion: I became a chocolatier because I loved it as a child – I even used to swap my toys for it. I have introduced my daughter to chocolate, of course, and she has liberal access to it – unless her mother is around. 

After lunch we stroll to the Marché des Chefs. All the best restaurants in Brussels buy produce here and if we are having guests to dinner – which is often – I take inspiration from whatever the vendors recommend. It is an adventure because you never know what ingredients you will leave with; I recently created a recipe for lamb with strawberries, with glacé caramel ice cream and chocolate for dessert. 

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My wife takes our daughter home and I’ll look around Galerie Albert Baronian or Alice Gallery, which both show dynamic contemporary art, and visit La Maison Degand, a very stylish men’s clothing store. I may buy a shirt or sweater but I never notice the brand or designer; in my view, that’s the difference between men and women. 

At around 5pm I drop in at Basin & Marot for wine-tasting with my friend Jean-François Basin, who specialises in importing organic and biodynamic varieties. He recently introduced me to a Rhône made by Dard et Ribo – a new favourite. Then it’s on to Julien Hazard’s tiny cheese store. He has an excellent selection and is quite a personality – a cheeky chap with a certain savoir faire. 

If it’s a special occasion, rather than entertaining at home we’ll go out with Bruxellois friends to Le Chalet de la Forêt, a gourmet restaurant in the middle of the woods. Pascal Devalkeneer’s food is traditional but creative. Last time I had filleted sole cooked to perfection, followed by lamb with spices – the acidity of the jus made the meat stand out.  

On Sunday morning I drive the 10 minutes to Maison Barat, a bakery where the owner makes everything himself, to buy brioche and a fougasse (a loaf shaped like an ear of corn) for breakfast at home. We like to get out for a good walk so around 11 we set off for Soignes, a beautiful forested area within the city, stopping at Boitsfort market to pick up food for a picnic, maybe delicious quiches or roast chicken. Later we’ll browse for antique Japanese pieces in the Patrick & Ondine Mestdagh gallery, or we might visit the Magritte museum: the artist is one of Belgium’s finest exports. 

We usually stay at home in the evening – having a baby changes things – but now and then we like to go to Cinema Vendôme to watch independent films. Recently we saw Les Délices de Tokyo, which I loved especially as it was about food, as well as a charming story. We’ll have something very simple for dinner, like soup, and then I’m in bed by 11 dreaming about new chocolate recipes.”

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