Where to Eat Well in Bruges – The Best Restaurants in Bruges:
Just as for many people, London means Fish and Chips, Curry and a Cup of Tea, anywhere in Belgium is obviously the place to drink beer and eat waffles… You might push the boat out and try some moules or indulge in some of the best chocolate in the world. But, you probably wouldn’t expect a fine dining experience in Bruges.
Or would you? Around fifteen years ago I spent nine months working in Brussels. At the time I believe it was a culinary capital of Europe, a crown now often claimed by the London restaurant scene. Not only could you eat a wide variety of world cuisines, you could also enjoy fine dining Belgian style – food that was as good as anything you’d find in France but with larger portions. Some of the places I frequented are still world famous – Comme Chez Soi which now has two Michelin stars rather than the three it held then and the Sea Grill which is actually part of the Radisson Blu hotel. Others are less well known unless you are local. My own favourite quickly became La Manufacture, a quirky restaurant housed in a former handbag factory which pre-dated that ‘warehouse’ style of restaurant now all too common in East London.
I had no doubt that Bruges would have its own share of excellent restaurants, hidden away from the tourist traps. But, without the help of the local tourist board, I wouldn’t have known where to start other than perhaps with the Michelin Guide. Had I checked there, I would have found Sans Cravate – a one Michelin starred restaurant on Langestraat.
The husband and wife team here, Henk and Veronique Van Oudenhove-Bogaert got their first Michelin star a year after opening, twelve years ago. At that point, the restaurant took up one of the small terraced houses along the street. Now, three have been knocked through to create a larger fine dining restaurant with an informal wine bar, Hubert, to the front. They also have a small, contemporary styled bed and breakfast across the road.
My destination for the first evening in Bruges, Sans Cravate was designed by Veronique herself with a quirky modern interior that somehow matches the plating of the food perfectly. There’s a semi-open kitchen on one side of the restaurant and comfy chairs set around small tables. The menu is simple – there’s a traditional menu with a la carte option and a modern set menu where you can choose from four, five, six or seven courses of deliciousness. Each small plateful is artfully constructed both in terms of flavour combinations and visual appeal.
Wines are paired – again with the option of a moderate priced list and a more expensive option. And plates are brought to the table by a small and efficient team including Veronique and Henk themselves who explain each of the dishes.
I loved my tiny amuse bouche dishes of naan with confit lamb and champagne cep with sherry jelly.
And the work of art offered as Neiupoort Rouget with light bouillabaisse served with a rouille crisp made from a bell pepper and a single mussel garnish would have been my favourite dish had it not been followed by a delicious hare black pudding with quince, cabbage, charred leek and dehydrated beetroot.
On my second evening, I wandered along the same street to Franco Belge, a newish opening in what used to be a supermarket, though that seemed hard to believe from the stylish decor. There’s an open kitchen, an elegant bar and cosy seating. It could so easily be uprooted and moved to Shoreditch, where the design alone would get rave reviews in the Standard and City AM.
It’s the brainchild of two young chefs, Dries Cracco and Tomas Puype who first met over ten years ago. After studying at Ter Groene Poorte Bruges, they both pursued careers as chefs until more recently, they got back together to open Franco Belge less than two years ago. Traditional French-Belgian food with a contemporary twist, these are updated versions of the kind of dishes I remember from Brussels.
And, I had a very fine meal indeed. It’s hard to pick just one standout dish. I loved the Simmental beef tartare with pickles and charred lettuce. But I also really enjoyed the wild seabass with buttercup squash, shitake mushrooms and dashi mousseline.
If you are looking for a contemporary European fine dining experience while you are in Bruges, you won’t go wrong with either of these restaurants. And, if you have time I’d highly recommend trying both.
But, what if you just don’t have an inclination for fine dining? Well, you could try the gastrobar to the front of Sans Cravate, Hubert, where you’ll find charcuterie, cheeses, pizza and a selection of daily specials on the board. Although I didn’t have time (or space in my stomach) to spend there, it looks like the kind of place where if you weary of the tourists and heritage sites you could go to chill for the evening.
I also ate lunch one day at Nomad, a lively bar/restaurant which serves a wide range of cafe dishes including the delicious scampi laksa that I enjoyed. Somewhere to go if you don’t want to eat a hotel breakfast or if you happen to be visiting the Concertgebouw, which is just around the corner.
And, on my first day in Bruges, a chance visit to ‘D’ or Deldycke Traiteurs – a delicatessen just off the main square. I somehow managed to sample a whole range of local cheese and charcuterie and to walk away with a jar of Wostyn mustard, upsold by the charming team who told me that it was the only mustard that was used at El Bulli.
This is the kind of place where you can buy things to take away or if you prefer, pay a few Euros as a cover charge and then sample from the counters. You can order tasting plates of the meats and cheeses or have the appetisers and quiches heated up and served with salad. The staff are very knowledgeable and if you want to learn more about local specialities this is a great place to start.
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I travelled with Eurostar to Bruges via Brussels. Tickets start at £29 one way and the journey takes around 3 hours.