Friday, 11 November 2011

Bruges Food - featuring De Hobbit

Bruges for those of you who don't know is in the North of the United Kingdom of Belgium, it is the largest city and capital of West Flanders. This medieval city has been preserved in time most of the buildings are in excellent condition, and as a result the whole city centre is a world heritage site.

The city is largely Catholic and there are a lot of churches in Bruges; all magnificent in their own way. The Basilica of the Holy Blood houses a phial of Jesus' blood (although there is debate about whether it's the real thing... it would need to be 2011 years old after all) and I happened to walk in on the one day that they let you touch it (I wasn't allowed to take a picture).

Bruges has a nickname... 'The Venice of the North' because, as the name suggests, there are plenty of canals within the city.

Bruges is also a foodies paradise.

With Belgium holding more Michelin starred restaurants per capita than France, and Bruges alone holding host to two three star Michelin restaurants it's fair to say the people of Belgium love their food. Their love of food stems from the Brueghelian feasts and medieval banquets which have been carried forward to present day. Despite having so many top quality restaurants located within this city, in the main Markt square you will struggle to find one. The food here is expensive and not particularly good, they don't need to be very good as many a tourist will happily sit down and eat in the nearest vicinity with a good view of the Belfry. They even have a Subway on the Markt and a 'Quick Hamburger' the Belgian equivalent of McDonalds. Quite frankly there is no competition. It is down the side streets and further away from the main parades that you will find quite often cheaper and definitely better eating establishments.

Some typical dishes include: waterzooi- a sort of fish stew, Mussels and chips, Frietjes- chips and mayo cooked twice to give them that excellent Belgian taste... so good we had them twice! The best place to find a good portion of chips isn't in the finest restaurants in town it's in these small little huts...

Here's me eating mine.

Other typical foods include: pancakes and waffles... you can't walk down a street that has a cafe serving either of these delights and not be tempted to have one, they smell amazing. The sweetness creeps in to your nostrils and hooks you in.

To me they tasted like big corrugated  sweet donuts. Very fatty and very moreish.

What else is Belgium famous for?


I have never seen so much chocolate in my whole life. There is none of this cheap nasty stuff that you get over here either, it's all creamy and carefully constructed to make you scream out in pleasure.

Yes that is boob and phallic shaped chocolate. 

This little luxury was sold in the most expensive chocolate shop we found, 50Euros for a box of 10 chocolates!

My special treat to myself from the aptly named Lady Chocolates. 

I'm only eating one a day to make them last longer. 

They are the most complex and beautifully made chocolates I have ever put in my mouth. 

Our hoard. 

Another thing Belgium is famous for is it's beer.

Beer is to  the Belgian as wine is to the French. There are several hundred varieties and 178 Breweries.

The beer wall which claims to contain every single beer in circulation in Belgium and every personalised glass that goes with each type too.

Pity I don't like beer... but I do like fruity beer! So there was some hope for me. The first I ordered was a strawberry flavoured beer, nothing like the Fruli you get in this country which is thick and sickly. This was smooth and gently flavoured. Didn't taste too much like beer either.

And because I was on holiday I also had this for breakfast one day...

Strawberry tart. Much better than Gregs although a little hard to eat with a spoon it was truly divine I wish I could have this for breakfast every day.

Our time in Bruges was limited to a day and a night and then another day... and we only managed to eat out properly once which we were expecting as we were wanting to stuff our face with waffles and chips whilst we walked around and saw all that Bruges had to offer.

We got lost a few times as the tiredness and exhaustion led to our bearings going straight out of the window. So when it came to the time when we needed to head back to our hotel and start considering where we were going to eat dinner later... We turned to the guide book for a suggestion on where to eat. We were both a little dubious as when both of us have tried this in other countries ... we found the guide book recommendation to be no more.

Alas, I had a good look through and found a place called 'De Hobbit' grabbing my attention as the book I had decided to bring with me was The Hobbit. De Hobbit serves middle earth cuisine... basically a lot of rustic meat stuff.

Even though it was down a little side street it was really easy to find.

The menus were already laid out on the table when we sat down and they were in the format of a newspaper. As most things in Bruges everything is written in Dutch and a translation in french and English sits beneath.
The decor is very quirky and not Middle-Earth like there are no Hobbits or wizards running around.
As with many tourist restaurants and bars this one collects foreign currency also. However this establishment chooses to pin them to it's ceiling as well as the odd one pinned to the bar.

As you can see above they still had some of their Halloween decorations up as did most places we visited.

The waitress took our drinks order and we had no problem speaking in English to her, as the shameful Brits we are we don't know Dutch. I can speak a little French but I was scared of offending people as it's mainly southern Belgians that tend to speak French.

We ordered our food and they brought us bread and dips whilst we waited. One of the dips was a humus of some sort whilst the other was garlic butter.

We decided to share starters as we couldn't decide which ones we wanted. We opted for Drum 'n' Bass chicken.. which came with a sweet chili dip. I wasn't too keen on the chicken but my friend loved it. It had a distinctly foreign taste to it, and I know I'm being picky and you're all probably wondering what on Earth I'm going on about, but having had culinary experiences in Morocco (not the tourist part) there is a particular flavour to chicken that I only ever seem to find in foreign countries and it stops me being able to eat any of it.

... and spicy sausages. The dip blobbed on the plate in between the sausages is possibly the hottest thing I have ever put in my mouth. I could feel a pulse in my tongue and lips for a good ten minutes afterwards and I only dipped my finger in to try it! I told my friend not to try it as they aren't good with spice but curiosity got the better of them and they also had to sit there suffering.

However the other dips that accompanied the sausages were delightful! I'm afraid I can't tell you what these are as they were not translated on the menu but the closest one in the picture was very tasty and I mainly ate this one it had a little spice to it nice and warming unlike the one on the plate.

For mains my friend chose the ribs. There were many varieties of ribs to try and I'm not entirely sure which one they decided upon as we did the English thing and just pointed to things on the menu. The ribs however were described as 'as many as you can eat'... the guy on the table next to us had obviously taken up this challenge as his plate was stacked with ribs!

I took the safe choice and ordered a chicken kebab. Luckily this time no foreign chicken taste. The portions don't look that big from the pictures but these were unusually large plates and I reckon my kebab had nearing two portions of chicken breast on it. I was stuffed afterwards. The male waiter who brought us our food pronounced in a French accent (not sure if he was French or Southern Belgian- do they have different accents?) that the dips were 'simply divine' with the food we had chosen.

It seemed a sin not to order dessert in a city full of desserts. We were both extremely full but we powered on and decided to share apple pie and ice cream. Like German desserts Belgian desserts are covered in icing sugar and are really sweet. This apple pie is the BEST I have ever tasted. It was like a traditional English apple pie with comes with a savoury pastry that's very thick and needs a bit of custard with it. This pasty was broken up wasn't too hard or too soft a mixture of both. The apple pie contained raisins as well as apples (obviously) and was simple to die for.

So overall we had a really good experience here. The staff we're not in your face and were helpful and always easy to find when we needed something. We were aiming to spend around 100 euros on dinner so when the bill came to 65 euros we were really shocked! I know the exchange rate is really rubbish at the moment but we felt this was value for money and were over joyed that our one 'proper' meal turned out to be so great.

I've had a look at a few of the reviews on trip adviser and a few people who have visited in large groups haven't been that impressed. Another thing that has been highlighted is that a few people found their food to be burnt... I'm not a lover of rare meat and do like the barbecued effect, if you do like your food rare then this would probably be something to flag with them when they take your order. Everyone in the restaurant looked happy and there was laughter no one seemed disgruntled or upset there was a really good atmosphere the night that we visited.

Fancy a tipple afterwards directly across the street you will find 't Brugs Beertje, this a beer connoisseurs paradise. Many of the pubs and bars in Bruges will set a large variety of the hundreds of beers to be found in Belgium, but this place can serve you 300 of them! The place itself was established 20 years ago and is a tiny little place, sort of the size of the Angel's (just off Briggate in Leeds) front room with a bar in there as well. It was nicely full when we passed but not brimming, everyone had a place to sit. It also comes highly recommended in the guide book.

You can find De Hobbit's website here...

The guide book I took with me was this one.