A few years ago, a dear friend of mine, Robyn and her partner Deidre started a chocolate shop in Minnesota. They've been working so hard to produce beautiful, and delicious quality chocolates. They travel all over the US to learn new techniques. They stay on top of the latest trends, try to use local and organic ingredients when that is possible. . . .so mostly, they're pretty groovy. I've had their stuff sent to me here in the UK and the chocolates they produce rival fine European chocolates.
I told Robyn that I was headed to Belgium. As they will not be over here anytime soon, I said I'd take photos for her and investigate trends. I also picked up some brochures, but the bag with the brochures (and gourmet chocolate) was surgically lifted from my shopping bag in London by somebody who wanted it more than me.
If there was a window so that the customer could see the production, there was always somebody having a look.
I believe that Bruges has over fifty chocolate shops. There seems to be enough custom for them all to survive. I am sure that those who have a reputation for excellence and a good location will do better than others. This means, that if you don't know what you're doing or your chocolate is not good, you will not survive in Belgium.
One of the things that will pull customers (and me) off the beautiful streets of Bruges and into the shop is this:
In the above photo you can see my reflection as I take a snap of the orange slices dipped in chocolate. Seville oranges are in season right now. The bitter oranges are best for marmalade AND the partially dried slices are perfect for dipping in super luxurious Belgian chocolate. We bought those every day. One slice for me and one slice for The Man of the Place. If we buy more than one slice each, . . we'll eat more than once slice each.
There isn't a bit of hot chocolate powder in the city. If you order hot chocolate (chocolate chaud) then this is what you will get:
A chunk of rich Belgian chocolate that is melted into steamed milk. It isn't cheap, but it is warm and very decadent. They really do make a great effort with the service of hot chocolate, making the entire experience one of pleasure.
We didn't go there for the chocolates but it was fun to be diverted by them.