Bruges gastronomy: the best places and things to eat
Its narrow cobbled streets and romantic canals surrounded by medieval palaces and buildings leave nobody feeling indifferent. Walking through the old town, you’ll need patience and thousands of eyes to not miss any of the historic nooks and crannies hidden by this beautiful Belgian city. When you’re least expecting it, looking into one of its squares or walking down any of its narrow alleys, you’ll be struck by something wonderful that makes you stop and tremble at its beauty. But if I tell you that on top of this, Bruges is one of the best known and most recognised cities in the world for its gastronomy, it will surely surprise most people.
Well ladies and gentlemen, it’s true. Bruges is not just mussels (although you should try them), chocolate and beer, as many might think. For many years Bruges has been transforming into a landmark for global fine dining. You only have to see the number of restaurants in the city with a Michelin star: De Jonkman, Sans Cravate, Auberge De Herborist, Den Gouden Harynck... which has allowed it to establish itself as a culinary destination in its own right. This makes Bruges perfect, as it offers us history, a romantic atmosphere and wonderful food.
But as this type of restaurants is not within the reach of everyone, I’m going to recommend some others, which are more affordable but equally fantastic and scattered across Bruges. Very close to Burg Square, you’ll find restaurant Rock-Fort (Langestraat 15). With a modern style, its menu offers various dishes typical of this northern part of Belgium with extremely careful and elaborate presentation. In truth, it’s very difficult for me to say which dish I liked the most: all of them! Even the warm and crusty bread that comes with the starters made it into a very special dinner. I decided not to choose from the menu and let the chef surprise me. And he certainly did. If you want to experience this, don’t hesitate to order what they served me: Belgian grey shrimps with miso and pickled vegetables; scallop with cabbage, bacon and risotto on a green herb salsa; Txogitxu beef with seasonal vegetables and for dessert, persimmon with banana and caramel ice cream. It’s a full and absolutely delicious menu. Don’t leave when you’ve finished; order a cocktail at the bar. It is a perfect way to kick off a fantastic night in Bruges.
Along the same lines as Rock-Fort, another good recommendation would be to go and sample the food of Kok Au Vin (Ezelstraat 21). With a cosier atmosphere, it’s perfect for a romantic candlelit evening. Its menu is split into set menus and, depending on your appetite or the number of people in your group, the friendly staff can advise you on which menu to choose. In my case, I went for the three course menu, which was more than sufficient. I ate fresh fish from the catch of the day accompanied by Keiemtaler cheese; venison steak with oriental herbs, pumpkin and cardamom gravy and for dessert, a delicious pear in red wine, sesame caramel, cream of hazelnuts and chestnut ice cream. I had to give my praise to the chef: it’s been a long time since I ate something so tasty.
Other good options for this type of cuisine for example are the restaurants Zet´Joe, Franco Belge, De Refter and Sans Cravate. All of these have a careful and elaborate menu, typical of this part of Belgium.
But because I’m good to you, I’m also going to recommend where to eat and enjoy the best chocolate, beer and Belgian fries in Bruges. Therefore, I’m definitely sending you to the best places. Let’s take it one at a time:
As with nearly all Belgian cities - Bruges is no exception - its streets are full of shops and street stalls to enjoy a sweet bite to eat and chocolate, of course, plays a leading role. But you have to be able to differentiate the good from the bad or the excellent from the mediocre. In Bruges there are four types of establishments where you can buy chocolate. From worst to best quality: the street stalls; the chocolate and sweet shops that don’t belong to any commercial brand, whose chocolates are often not made in Belgium; the shops of well-known brands such as Godiva, Neuhaus or Galler; and the shops where they make the best chocolate in the city according to traditional methods. Of this last type, there are 10 spread throughout the city. To not drive you crazy, I recommend that you walk down Wollestraat Street and spend time in the shops Van Oost, Chocoladehuisje and Pralinette. Out of these 10 shops I’d also highlight Chocolaterie Dumon, with three shops in Bruges. You’ll absolutely love any of these ten shops.
In Belgium there are over 500 types of beer, or so I read recently. We have an infinity of flavours, colours, strengths... it’s a genuine paradise for beer lovers. And logically, in any of the innumerable bars and pubs of Bruges, we can taste any of them. As I myself tend to prefer wine over beer, I always let the waiters advise me, something which I fully recommend. Due to their experience, they can usually get it right if you tell them what you like. But where can you drink the best beers? Well, that’s easy. The most authentic Belgian bars would be: Herberge Vlissinghe (Blekersstraat 2), an old cavern that brings together the best associations of the region; ‘t Brugs Beertje (Kemelstraat 5) with a range of over 300 types of beers; and Staminee Garre (De Garre 1).
But if you want to enjoy a more authentic beer, I recommend that you visit the bar Halve Maan (Walplein 26), which has a fascinating museum, to see how the beer Brugse Zot is made. As well as looking around the distillery and visiting their shop, on the terrace of the level above, you can sample the beer while looking at absolutely incredible panoramic views of Bruges. What surprised me about this distillery is that they bottle the beer outside the city, and to avoid the lorries entering Bruges’ old town to collect the beer, it travels from the factory to the bottling plant through a pipeline.
Fries, a very typical dish in Belgium (they say they were invented here), can be tasted in a thousand places and restaurants in the city. It must be said that in nearly all of them they are fairly well made and I’m sure that if you order them anywhere, you’ll like them. But if you want to be a little original and order them in a very authentic place with a certified history, I recommend that you go to the two street stalls in the Market Square, at the foot of the Belfry. These stalls have just turned a century old and they’ve been in this spot since the end of WWI (1917). From them, you can buy a good portion of fries mixed with any of the many sauces that they offer. For just €4, this dish will keep hunger at bay.