No this ain’t a new restaurant in London. I’m going to review this gastronomic city in Belgium as all we did there was eat and drink. It’s also an ideal trip for Londoners as it’s so convenient to get to. Two hours and fifteen minutes by Eurostar via Waterloo, change at Brussels, then forty-five minutes onto Brugge. It’s that fast. The whole trip, including travel, hotel stay for two nights (including breakfast) cost around £150 per person.
When you arrive at the Brugge railway station, you can catch any bus outside as all go into the city centre. It costs 1 euro per person. Take note though, we settled down for a 10 to 15 minute bus ride. It literally only took less than 5 minutes.
We stayed at Hans Memling Hotel (Kuiperstraat 18) a three-star rated place right smack in the centre of things. We couldn’t recommend it more. The staff there were extremely friendly and helpful. The room and bathroom was modest and clean. They had a bitchin’ gas heater system, which seemed to come on at any time it pleased, blasting the room like we were fruit ready to be dried. We didn’t mind, as when we were there it was quite chilly. Breakfast was served from 7:30-10:30am and included the usual suspects – bread, croissants, cereal, fruit, juice. To our delight, they also povided scrambled and boiled eggs, even bacon. A rarity to find a cooked breakfast in Europe - especially in a three star hotel
One of the first things we noticed in this small, quaint cobble-stoned town was the number of chocolate stores. Seriously they could rival the number of pubs in Dublin. Each was as tempting as the one before them. We bought 6 bags from different stores. We even visited the Chocolate Museum (Wijnzakstraat 2) for 5 Euro each. A very educational visit documentating the history and art of making chocolate. They had some gorgeous chocolate with a hint of ginger. Would garlic work? Highly recommended.
Beer of course was one of the main reasons we were there. Our mission from the outset was to try as many as we could, and never to repeat the same one. We only slipped up once. This is because we ordered their Straffe Hendrik at a restaurant, only to go to their brewery later on in the day. I truly would not recommend this beer. It tastes like feet with a hint of coriander.
The Huisbrouwerij De Halve Mann is the museum and tavern of Straffe Hendrik. They clearly do not make the beer on site here. The tour is worth paying for as it only costs 3.70 Euro and is quite enlightening – and you get a free beer at the end of the tour. Good if you like feet.
On the night before we left we went to ‘t Brugs Beertje (Kemelstraat 5) – a beer tavern claiming to have 300 beers. It’s an essential to visit if you love beer.It has a very cosy and friendly atmosphere. They have five of the six Trappist beers here. These beers are produced by the Trappists – the order of Cistercian monks who used to observe the order of silence. In the 19th century, the monasteries produced the beer for the monks’ consumption, but then they began to sell it to the outside world. They have strict control over their product and have resisted to sell their product to the large cooperations. The waitress was telling us that there used to be one Trappist beer in the Netherlands, but alas, they sold out to the money-makers. These beers are top-fermented ales. Extra yeast is added at bottling to produce a second fermentation in the bottle. That’s why, before pouring, you should let the contents of the bottle settle. Anyway, we tried all of the Tappist beers they had there – Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort and Westmalle. All were really lovely beers, each with their own unique taste. Admittedly, their flavours did tend to intermingle and confuse the taste buds (and brain cells) after a while. According to the burly friendly waitress, Westvleteren is made only in small quantities and even in Belgium is hard to find. My new mission.
We also tried the lambic beers which are unique because it is spontaneously fermented by tiny fungi called Brettanomyces that are only found in Brussels and to the west of Belgium. Amazing. Because of the sourish taste, they add raspberries to make framboise, cheeries to produce kriek, or sugar and caramel to make faro. The framboise is brilliant. Especially for girls I think and it doesn’t taste like beer at all. It just tastes like a really fizzy sweet soft drink. I tried the chocolate beer, which didn’t taste like chocolate at all. It’s very hard to describe the taste – malty perhaps? In prince consort’s mission to drink as much beer as possible above 5% of alcohol, he had Bush beer – hitting the Richter scale at 12%. The strongest beer in Belgium.
We kept on going into these specialist beer stores and I couldn’t stop prince consort from buying something every time we entered in. They sell nicely packaged Belgium beer complete with their own distinctive glass. As you know, all Belgium beer has to be drunk with its own glass. Worth buying as it’s not too dear and it’s nice to look at and drink out of when you get home.
Food wasn’t bad in Brugge but we were taken back by the prices. I know this is a touristy town, but come on. Every single restaurant listed as inexpensive in my guidebook was average 20-25 Euro for a main course dish. We were very pleased to see that fresh seafood plays a major role in the Flemish diet – and they cook it very well in generous portions. We had the kilo pot of moules cooked in Flemish beer and I had the beef stewed in Flemish beer again. I won’t go through every restaurant we’ve been to, but I will recommend one. Da Vlaamse Pot (Helmstraat 3-5) offers a very cosy intimate cottage-like setting. I had the waterzooi which seems to be a steaming pot of cod and mussels soaking in a sea of creamy garlic sauce with carrots and leak.. Very tasty and must be tried. They also had a similar dish, which seemed to be the exactly same thing, except eel was substituted for the cod. Didn’t really like the consistency of the eel – had a kind of gelatine cartilaginous feel in the mouth – so I guess it’s up to yourself. We had this meal after that trip to the ‘t Brugs Beertje and we were so drunk I accidentally left my SLR camera there. I only noticed the next morning. When I freaked out and rang the restaurant at 9:15am (after saying my White Rabbits), the owner unexpectantly picked up and said yes, they had left the camera aside for me. Three cheers for the Da Vlaamse Pot and White Rabbits!
Another thing about Brugge, which is probably true about the whole of Belgium, is the amount of frittes they consume. Let’s just they we are all frittes’d out at the moment. There’s nothing incredibly sexy about the frittes (not like the ones at The Ship), but they are good.
So we had the beer, moules, frittes and chocolates. My only regret it that we didn’t have the Belgium waffles. They were making them everywhere freshly. Damn. Next time.
Oh and take the canal cruise. Well worth it. Only costs around 5 Euros for 30 minutes, open air cruise with commentary. Takes you all around Brugge and its sights.
Brugge is a great place to go with a couple of mates. I wouldn’t say it has a lot to see in terms of sights, although it is very pretty. Probably two full days is enough to see everything you want, although not enough to sample every beer they have. Damn.
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