Chocolate and beer in Bruges
Bruges is a great place to go if you like eating and drinking. There's plenty of eateries, an abundance of chocolate (with or without waffles) and bucket loads of beer. We spent a few days checking this pretty city out.
There is only really one place to start with writing a food article about Bruges and that's chocolate. I wouldn't want to hazard a guess as to how many artisan chocolate shops there are. With such a myriad of choccy options it's very hard to choose, there are high end luxury boutiques, the touristy shops selling novelty molded chocolate and the smaller more independent looking chocolate shops.
Evidently I didn't go into them all, but my favourite was The Chocolate Line on Simon Stevinplein, a small square a short walk from Markt. These crazy cats had some pretty bizarre flavour combos, these included Wasabi dark, Cola dark and Lemongrass milk chocolate. My favourite from their plethora of options was their Fried onion milk chocolate; the flavour of the fried sweet onion added an almost caramel like tone to the chocolate.
The Chocolate story museum was a bit of let down, the exhibitions were pretty one dimensional and the chocolate making demonstration was a bit too overcrowded and difficult to see if you weren’t on the front row. I did however purchase a large bag of Costa Rican chocolate which is making some of the best homemade hot chocolate I've ever had. Using dark chocolate, milk and a little bit of sugar is definitely the best way to make hot chocolate and almost as easy as using a hot chocolate powder.
We did put a bar of fairly typical Belgian milk chocolate up to a blind taste test and it didn’t fair particularly well against the typical bars that can be found in a UK supermarket. So if you are buying chocolate to bring home in Bruges, go for the good stuff, artisan hand crafted chocolate with unique flavour combos.
Now that I've done chocolate, beer is the next item that really needs to be talked about. The celebration of beer in Belgium is unsurpassed, yes we have the humble beer festival but sadly the drinking of artisan beer/ale in the UK is not main stream. The first thing to note is each beer gets its own dedicated shaped glass, above and beyond just a logo printed on the glass.
The second is, most of the Belgian amber nectar is blooming strong. Half way down my first lunch time beer, I started feeling like I was already on my second pint; on closer inspection of the bottle I realised my beer was 9% alcohol. All the beers I tried were flavoursome, most were quite gassy, which helped to slow down my guzzling; a good thing considering their strength.
The beers that deserve a special mention
Brugse Zot - brewed in Bruges this bottled beer is packed full of flavour, satisfyingly malty, a good well balanced beer that I would consider the go to beer when supping a couple of cold ones around the bars of Bruges. Also worth noting it is brewed by Halve Maan Brewery, the only brewery in Bruges.
La Chouffe – Another good drinker, this was one of the lightest (in colour) beers I tried. A nice hoppy number with a bitterness playing on the tongue, before a good dose of refreshment follows through. Stronger than I thought at 8%.
Morte Sorbite – Cherry Kriek , not my normal tipple, but you can’t go to Belgium and not try a couple of fruit beers. Though quite sweet, I can fully understand why it has a World Beer Award, with fruity flavours galore this Kriek beer just worked. I drank it on its own, but I have to say I think this would be the ideal accompaniment to a sweet dessert, such as a berry cheesecake.
The prize for the most annoying beer went to Lindemann’s Faro Lambie which had a cork hidden beneath the foil cover and the bottle cap. It took some getting into with no corkscrew, but once in it was a perfectly pleasant beer, that as well as satisfying my taste buds also challenged my problem solving skill sets.
North Sea seafood
The biggest surprise, though, in retrospect not really a surprise due to Bruges' location, a stone’s throw from the North Sea was the abundance of locally caught seafood on the menus about town. We didn’t have a bad meal though price and portion sizes were interesting but I’ll get to that.
I had a superb North Sea Bouillabaisse in restaurant De Carre which was located in Markt square. It was an epic bowl of seafood soup that contained salmon, crevettes, a white fish, shrimp and mussels. I would recommend this restaurant, great location looking over Markt square and the food was excellent.
On the next eve we ate in a restaurant called Curiosa. The waiter suggested I should try Waterzooi as this was the Flemish equivalent of the Bouillabaisse. The fish being poached with potatoes in milk and thickened with egg yolk and the jelly from the bones of the fish. The creamy sauce coated the red snapper, muscles, brown shrimp, scallop, prawns and cod that were encased within. I really enjoyed both the Waterzooi and the Bouillabaisse, given the choice I’d probably go with the traditional Mediterranean fish stew as I felt the tomato based soup carried more of the fishy flavours in comparison to the dairy based sauce. Ask me whether I would recommend Curiosa, the food was good, but any restaurant that refuses to serve tap water gets a black mark in my book.
The price vs size conundrum
The prices in Bruges were a bit out of kilter and the meals seemed relatively expensive. Price wise I don’t mind paying for quality meals, which they all were. Pretty much all restaurants had the same items on their menu and all were within three to four euros of each other - it would have been good to have a more varied range of restaurants to choose from.
Starters seemed expensive in comparison to the cost of the mains. After our first meal we knew there would be no point having starters as well as mains. The portion control police would have a field day in Bruges, which is a good thing for greedy people like myself. In one restaurant the chef couldn't fit the whole portion of steak and chips on the plate. As soon as one plate had been polished off the waiter came out with seconds, a similar size portion to the first.
My next minor gripe a thimble sized glass of orange juice at six euros was more expensive than a bottle of beer at 5 euros. The right way round in my eyes, but not for my pregnant wife.
So in my eyes the best way to enjoy eating out in Bruges, skip the starters and go straight for scrummy oversized main courses. And drink beer rather than overpriced orange juice or bottled water.
I will definitely go back to Bruges, probably to help get myself into the Christmas spirit at their annual Christmas Market or to Belgium in general by car so I can stock up on some of the vast array of beers on offer.
Getting to and staying in Bruges
We travelled to Bruges by Eurostar, which was excellent as usual and is one of the most relaxing ways to travel across the channel. One of the reasons we chose Belgium to visit, whilst looking at destinations on the Eurostar we noticed that when travelling to Belguim the price of Eurostar ticket includes return rail journey to anywhere in Belgium.
We stayed in the Grand Hotel Casselbergh, comfortable rooms and a short walk from the centre of Bruges are its key selling points. The rooms were comfortable and the canal facing ones had a great view of Bruges. The online offer we found included breakfast which I would recommend searching out, as buying breakfast at the hotel costs 25 euros per person.