After three months of lockdown, a change of scenery would do us good. Let's start by exploring pastries and cakes from other latitudes. Here are four places to make your mouth water while broadening your horizons.
When someone mentions Forcado, everyone thinks of the tea room in Elsene/Ixelles. Connoisseurs know that a second place can be found in Ukkel/Uccle. The advantage of the place is that you can have a quick chat there with the man who began it all, Joaquim Braz de Oliveira, the sprightly sexagenarian who founded the company nearly 40 years ago. With a smile, the adorable owner will tell you everything about the famous “pastéis de nata” (€2 each), the extremely popular Portuguese custard tarts, from their proper name (pastéis de Belém) to the cooking method, which is impossible to recreate at home (eight minutes at 420°c, no less). This meticulous artisan offers a wide range of sweet treats, several of which contain neither gluten nor lactose. The place also has a small corner that allows you to stock up on sardines, wines, and olive oils from Fernando Pessoa's homeland.
chaussée de Waterloosesteenweg 1210, Ukkel/Uccle, 02-681.11.53, www.forcado.be, di/ma/Tu > za/sa/Sa 10.30 > 18.30, zo/di/Su 10.30 > 14.30
You can count the Italian cake shops in Brussels on one…finger. Giovanni and Enza, an authentic duo from Messina, who set up shop in 1978, are an institution in and of themselves. Steeped in tradition, this place, which includes a tea room that is currently inaccessible, is known for its selection of cakes from the four corners of Italy. There's the “diplomatico” (€3.50), a dessert made up of multiple layers of puff pastry, and Génoise (sponge cake) (in the centre) topped with crème diplomate, or the “aragosta” (€2), a puff pastry cone of which Giovanni makes a version that's filled with crème anglaise. But the real show-stopper is the “cannolo” (€3.50), a genuine marvel made with ricotta that comes straight from Sicily. Everything is guaranteed to be traditional and made by hand. As Enza says: “Here, we make cakes the way they did in the old days, once upon a time.”
Leuvensesteenweg 303 chaussée de Louvain, Schaarbeek/Schaerbeek,
02-733.73.64, di/ma/Tu > zo/di/Su 7 > 18.30
In Belgium, Greek food has often been mistreated, and don't even get us started on the desserts. Fortunately there's Nikolas Koulepis. This pastry chef from Rhodes earned his stripes at several reputable establishments. Two years ago, he opened his own shop, and quickly made a name for himself with the neighbourhood clientele. No wonder it's such a success − the place has everything going for it: beautifully stripped-back decor and, above all, a fabulous selection of desserts. Some consist of hybrid creations, such as the “yaourt framboise” (€4.60), a beautifully light dome made of Greek-style yoghurt, raspberry jelly, honey, and olive oil biscuit. Others are exquisitely made traditional desserts, such as baklava (€4.20), pistachio kataifi (€4), and galaktoboureko (€27), a filo pastry cake with a hint of lemon.
Edelknaapstraat 85 rue du Page, Elsene/Ixelles, 02-514.74.40, www.nkpatisserie.com, di/ma/Tu > vr/ve/Fr 9 > 18.00, za/sa/Sa 9 > 19.00, zo/di/Su 9 > 17.00
Rose de Damas
Coated in a thick layer of honey, Eastern desserts often have no soul due to being made by assembly line. It's not easy to find an establishment that is passionate about its craft. Good news: Rose de Damas is head and shoulders above the rest. It has been more than 30 years since the Syrian Ahmad Kassabeh, who moved to Brussels to study engineering, abandoned his textbooks to pursue baking. His signature approach consists of borrowing specialities from different Mediterranean countries. Not content to churn out the same old Turkish baklavas and dusted lokums, this chef also creates inventions that link his origins with his adopted country. It's an interesting combination, which he achieves by using ingredients such as chocolate and speculoos. All this results in exceptional specialities that are sold by weight (€3.20 for 100 grams).
Grasmarkt 19 rue du Marché aux Herbes, Brussel/Bruxelles, 02-503.18.00, www.rosededamas.be, ma/lu/Mo > zo/di/Su, 11 > 20.00