Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Brussels 2013 - Savonnerie Heymans Apartments

Savonnerie Heymans Apartments Project is a public housing project not far from the Grand Place. It was one of the architectural projects on our must visit list. Completed in 2011, this project has since won numerous awards for its innovative, sensitive and low energy design approach.

The project was built around an old soap factory. Some of the old factory structures have been retained - including a 40m high chimney which is reused as ventilation for an underground car park.

The design uses industrial materials such as steel checkered plates,galvanized steel, glass and raw timber but transforms them into sensual materials with clever use of textures and colours.

As this is a housing project, it is not normally open for visitors. At first we couldn't find the entrance as the main gate was closed. Luckily there were some maintenance works going on and the gate was opened for a delivery truck - and the building manager let us in for a quick look around.

It is amazing that a project of such high quality in both architectural design and construction is actually public housing. Despite their economic woes in Europe - they must be doing something right.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Brussels 2013 - La Cure Gourmande

If you travel around France, Belgium or Spain, you are bound to bump into La Cure Gourmande - a chain of confectionery shops with very brightly coloured shopfronts. Once you see them you can't miss them - the design is very distinctive.

Entering into the shop is like going into a kiddy wonderland. There are candies, chocolates, cookies and goodies of all your imaginations. The packagings are especially beautiful - and many people would probably buy them for the packaging alone.

I didn't actually try any of the sweets as they look a bit too commercialized to me. But love the packaging.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Brussels 2013 - Elisabeth Chocolatier

In my quest to find the best Belgian chocolate, I must have tried more then a dozen chocolate shops in Antwerp and Brussels. I was really glad to stumble into Elisabeth Chocolatier - a small chocolate shop near the Grand Place. All the chocolates in the shop look exquisite, and tasted even better. 

As usual the varieties are just amazing - from chocolate bars to pralines to chocolate coated biscuits to cute chocolate bunnies or chocolate eggs - you could find something for everyone.

If you ever visit Brussels, make sure you visit this little chocolate shop at the Grand Place. You will not be disappointed.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Brussels 2013 - Bruyerre Chocolates

Bruyerre is one of the top chocolatier in Belgium and you see there shops every where. They have one right at the Old Town Square - very convenient for visitors. The shop interior is quite quaint and cute - the better to draw in the tourists.

Bruyerre chocolates are delicious, but not cheap. A small box of half a dozen of the more premium pralines would easily cost 10 euros or more.

They even have a chocolatier on site making some of the chocolates on the spot. Forgot to ask whether they take customized orders.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Brussels 2013 - Mont des Arts

Mont des Arts is an area between the Grand Palace and the Grand Place (Old Town Square). This is also the artistic heart of Brussels - populated by a large number of art institutions including the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, the Museum of Musical Instruments, the Palais des Beaux-Arts, the Musée Magritte Museum, and so on. It is fronted by a large semi-circular plaza, and surrounded by buildings of various vintages.

A series of steps lead up to the upper plaza, which offer some of the best views of the City.

Within such a small and compact area - the number of architectural gems is amazing. You will see examples of Baroque, Gothic, Renaissance and even Art Nouveau architecture. It is an area well worth exploring for the architecture buff, and of course for the art lover there are the numerous museums to visit.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Brussels 2013 - The Grand Place (Old Town Square)

Brussels is the capital of Belgium and also the de facto capital of the European Union. It is also the largest city in Belgium with a population of 1.2 million. The Brussels Old Town Square - the Grand Place - is reputed to be one of the most beautiful in Europe - as the city was spared from the bombings during the 2nd World War. Most of the buildings have survived the centuries in very good condition, and they are indeed very architecturally impressive.

The Grand Place is surrounded by guildhalls - buildings that belong to various business associations of different trades. Like Wall Street barons of today - these guilds were controlled by some of the most powerful businessmen of the day.

Besides the guild halls, the two most impressive buildings in the Square are the Town Hall and the "King's House" which is now a museum. Both are handsome examples of the Gothic style.

In the centre of the Square are a few kiosks where you can buy actual paintings or prints. Some of them are very good.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Antwerp 2013 - Lunch at De Taloorkes Cafe

The old town area in Antwerp like in most Europe cities is full of cafes, restaurants and eateries - mostly catering to the tourist crowd. I was trying to find a more authentic local cafe that is not the typical tourist trap - so I ventured into the quieter side streets where there were a lot less people, and came across this nice small cafe called De Taloorkes. The menu is not too long and mostly written on the wall. As it was a bit early for lunch, the place was not so busy with only a couple of tables filled.

I asked for a recommendation - and the beef stewed in beer sounded really good so that was what I ordered. And I wasn't disappointed - the chunks of beef were very tender, the sauce full of flavour and it had that added subtle bitterness from the beer.

The order came with a generous serving of hand-cut potato chips on the side. These were also really good - crispy outside and fluffy inside. 

Judging from the menu - the food at De Taloorkes is mostly home-style comfort food. The prices are reasonable by European standards. It is a good place to go if you want to try some local Belgian cuisine.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Antwerp 2013 - Belgian Waffles

Besides chocolate, Belgium is also famous for its waffles. Waffles are eaten all over the World, and is now a very common fast food snack. It has its origins in Europe and is basically leavened batter cooked between 2 hot iron plates. The waffle that is most common today is the Belgian Waffle which interestingly doesn't actually exist in Belgium. Here they have many types of waffles, but the 2 most common types of waffles are the Brussels waffle and the Liege waffle. The one we call Belgian waffle is actually the Brussels waffle, but in the rest of Belgium the Liege waffle is more common.

I chanced upon this waffle cafe while wondering around the old town, and had to give it a try. I ordered the Brussels waffle with chocolate ice cream. The first thing you notice is that the squares are much bigger then what we are used to. When you bite into the waffle - you get the 2nd and 3rd surprises. The 2nd surprise is the that crust is really crispy, and the 3rd surprise is that the inside of the waffle is very light and fluffy instead of heavy and chewy. It is really delicious - and coupled with the rich chocolate ice cream it is one of those culinary marriages made in heaven.

I also ordered a cappuccino which came served with some nice cookies.

After the wonderful waffle session I did a quick Google and found out that the shop - Die Zoete Verleiding Cafe (That Sweet Temptation),  is actually quite famous in Antwerp and popular with locals for their waffles and desserts.