Belgian chocolate may be the undeniably best in the world, but even amongst the world’s best chocolates, there are superlatives. Easter Bunny, hang your head in shame if you think you can compete with Dominique Persoone. With his new shop in a former royal palace, he is undeniably the king of luxury chocolate.
Anyone who doesn’t understand how even the charmless GIs could return home from World War II with the most beautiful of war brides – when they were armed with chocolate- must be someone without a palette. Chocolate, the black gold from Cocoa is like no other substance. But, even as science continues to unravel the actual chemicals that underpin the mythologies of its secret powers, it’s important to get one thing straight: there is a world of difference between the dark art of the true choclatier and the ersatz nonsense sold in corner stores or, worse still, from vending machines.
In Belgium, chocolate is serious business. It has to be: that’s how it maintains its worldwide reputation for confecting the best this precious substance has to offer. Belgian chocolate may be generally the best, but the real hall of fame is select and discerning. So much so that even some of the best remain known to only a select elite that have been lucky enough to encounter their work: Mary, Pierre Marcolini, Wittamer…
And then there is Dominique Persoone. Persoone is the young turk of chocolate, the self-confessed ‘shocklatier’ who opened his shop The Chocolate Line – together with Fabienne Destaercke- in 1992. His wild combinations, whilst always sticking to a strong philosophy, soon earned The Chocolate Line many culinary accolades and a growing list of restaurant customers that read like a Michelin guide.
Persoone offers unlikely and wonderful combinations, such as a chocolate bonbon of pure olive oil; a chocolate containing a ganache of Japanese wasabi dried peas or even smoked cocoa pods alongside various classical recipes made to perfection. His wild artistic posture -for example, filling an ancient alley with nubile maidens trickled with the world’s best chocolate- and amazing creations have made him a media darling in his native Belgium and a talking point around the world in culinary circles.
Continuing another tradition, Personne understands that chocolate is best eaten at exactly the right time, which favours local consumption. Contrary to the chemical-ridden promises of mass production, any chocolate guru will tell you that the true delicacy is easily lost through inappropriate refrigeration or tiring travel. So, if one really needs to travel to the point of production to savour it at its best, one should expect it to be worth the trip, not only for the taste buds, but as an experience too.
Dominique Personne’s new Antwerp branch of The Chocolate Line delivers on all counts. Located within the former palace on Antwerp’s main shopping street, it’s antique panelled grandeur, complete with original paintings, is the ultimate environment to peruse the perfect chocolates. With this much temptation so close at hand, it’s hard to understand exactly how Antwerp simultaneously manages to maintain its other reputation as a hot spot for fashion and supermodels.