Category: Review

A Long Weekend in Bruges

A Long Weekend in Bruges

About a week ago my Mum and I went on a trip to Bruges – which is arguably the most adorable city in Belgium – to soak up some culture before Christmas. We went by Eurostar which made things super quick and a lot easier than all the paph that goes along with going by plane (easier than getting to Durham to!) so for a weekend it was the perfect getaway. The first noticeable thing when you arrive is that Bruges is basically a toy town as every road is cobbled and every house looks like it’s made out of gingerbread. Whilst this makes it a very pretty city, it does also make it slightly weird underfoot, so just don’t wear heels and make sure your suitcases’ wheels can withstand a bit of battering!

Being a fairly touristy town there is a whole range of hotels, hostels and apartments out there for the picking. We stayed at the Hotel Aragon which was a really really lovely place! Would 100% recommend as it was super comfy, really close to the centre and had a full buffet breakfast thrown in to the mix. As with many European hubs there were so many things to do in Bruges – museums, boat rides and chocolate shops to name a few, but as this is a food blog I’ll focus mainly on the best places to and not to eat over there!

Places to Eat

Waffles Waffles Waffles

One of the great things about touring round Europe is the cuisines. There’s nothing quite like eating food in it’s homeland, and so in Belgium I was keen to seek out the three things I associate most with Belgium: chocolate, beer and waffles! And it wasn’t very hard to find any of those three, I mean everywhere sold waffles – from a simple plain ones with sugar, to waffles on sticks and full out waffle restaurants. However the price varied so much so if you want to get the best out of your money listen up.

In the centre of town things tended to be super pricey, ranging up to about €4.50 for a simple plain waffle! Whereas if you walk towards the edge of the city (which’ll only take about 10-15 minutes as it’s a very small city) you can pick up a delicious waffle with banana and Nutella (or any other toppings you want) for a much more reasonable €2.50. I tried ones of all prices, in all places and generally the quality was pretty consistent (I mean they all tasted incredible!) so if you’re on a budget have a look outside the city centre for the best buys!

The Olive Street Food

The one down side with Belgian cuisine is that it’s very carbohydrate heavy. After a couple of days of chocolate, chips, waffles and more chips I found myself craving something light with salad! Another thing you’ll find in Bruges is that the streets are very windy and so navigating your way around the town is way more complicated than you’d think. I generally think of myself as having a fairly good sense of direction and I got lost several times. Therefore when it comes to finding places to eat we generally found trying to go somewhere you saw earlier completely useless and in the end just wandered around the streets until we found somewhere interesting.

One such places was this amazing Greek takeaway shop called The Olive Street Food. They did a really good range of veggie and meat based wraps and salads to take away, all at a relatively decent price considering how close the place was to the city centre. So if you’re looking for a takeaway I’d strongly recommend this place! I went for a halloumi and aubergine salad wrap that came in a pita bread thing with chips and oh boy was it good.

Ellis Gourmet Burger

On the note of vegetarian food, Bruges isn’t the vegan or even veggie capital of the world so if you’re looking for that kind of food you’re gonna have to search a bit. One place we found that had really good veggie options was Ellis Gourmet Burger in the smaller of the two market squares. They had a whole section of the menu just for veggie burgers including a delicious carrot burger and a vegan beetroot burger! So if you want somewhere for people of all dietary requirements give this one a go.


Being famous for it’s chocolate it was no surprise that on this trip I had some of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted. None of the wishy washy cocoa powder in water business, this was proper chocolate chips and milk. The best place I found for this was a cute chocolate shop called Olivier’s down one of the side streets.

Here they had a wide range of chocolates and treats on show as well as a whole range of hot chocolate flavours including caramel, cappucino, hazelnut, honey and spicy. I ended up going for the cookie flavour one and man was it good. Especially after a long day of walking around the sites, a warming cup of this is just what’s needed!


Now. You can’t go to somewhere like Bruges and not come across a chocolate shop overflowing with mountains of treats. I’m not even exaggerating, every chocolate shop had bucket loads of chocolates pilled up in the windows and everywhere the smell of melted chocolate is pumped out into the streets to pull you in.

There were so many chocolate shops there that it would be impossible to try them all in 4 days (although I did my best!). They also vary so much in variety that it depends on what you’re looking for as to where you should go. If you’re looking for cheap and cheerful there are several just off the main square that sell chocolates pick-and-mix style, which was great as you could choose exactly what and how much you wanted. They were a little more rough and ready, with not quite as much finish to them but they still tasted great!

On the other hand there were beautiful modern places like this one above, where each chocolate was carefully finished and decorated. Here they had slightly more interesting flavours, like yuzu and tonka bean, however they were a little more pricey so you might not be able to get as much for your money. What I did find though is that most shops had tasters of some sort, so let yourself be pulled in where your nose takes you and you might very well end up eating a lot on the way!

Places to Avoid

I’m not normally a very critical person; I tend to see good and bad (or pros and cons if you will) in most things. However there were a couple of places we went in Bruges that were frankly rip offs, so I thought it only right to warn you off them if you find yourself over there.

Haagen Dazs

This was a little dessert restaurant on the main square, with a cafe type set up below and a restaurant above. We were looking for somewhere to have a quick dessert after dinner one evening and so, enticed by the delicious looking menu, we decided to head in. However, once a waiter had finally come over to us to take our order, as we tried to order we were told that the things in the menu we were asking for weren’t actually available. Various elements shown in photos and descriptions weren’t actually included and some of the things that were included they didn’t even have.

In the end we decided what the hell and ordered anyway as it was late and we had sugar cravings. Whilst what they served was tasty (chocolate fondant and mango sorbet for me and some kind of waffle thing for my Mum), we paid €9 and €12 respectively and so were understandably disgruntled when tiny morsels of a similar size to that of a Michelin star restaurant arrived.  Had they been Cordon Bleu maybe we wouldn’t have minded, but given that they weren’t anything to write home about I’d recommend skipping this place and just going to one of the many good cafes or waffle shops around!

Christmas Market

Whilst it might feel like a must-do to eat at the beautiful Christmas market, if you’re there when it’s on, I’d personally recommend giving it a miss. There’s lots of beautiful gifts and toys and it’s really cute so by all means wander round, but I just wouldn’t recommend it for food. For the quantity and quality of what was being served the food was pretty pricey, and could have been found at lots of other places over town. Especially as it was very busy and cold at night in the market, you’d be better off finding somewhere you can sit in the warm to have a good meal rather than being squished standing up, trying to balance everything in your hands as you eat.

Some extra things to visit

As I said before, Bruges isn’t only about the food. There were also lots of museums, shops, churches and pretty sites to see! Even just wandering around the city was a lovely thing to do as literally every building was photo worthy. For some of the more touristy things, like the choco story museum, I’d recommend going early or late as the streets tended to get busier in the middle of the day when people were brought in on river cruises or day trips.

Salvador Dali Museum

Maybe it’s fairly natural that as an art student one of my favourite things about this trip was the Dali exhibition – but it was really really cool! I’ve always thought of Dali as more of a weird painter, and to be honest I’m not that big of a fan of his paintings, but this exhibition was full of his sketches, sculptures, illustrations and prints, all displayed in a beautiful maze of mirrors and lavishly coloured wall paper.

As with most places and attractions in the city it cost €10 to get in and €8 if you’re a student, so make sure you take a student card if you go! This one was also perfectly positioned in the centre of the city, so it’s really close to things like the history museum, ice skating, horse cart rides and the Christmas market, meaning that it’s the perfect place to pop into.

Choco Story

If you’re a chocoholic like me then you’ll want to head down to the chocolate museum. Here they had the full story of chocolate, from the history of the bean, to the production side of things and the speciality of Belgian chocolate. The experience then ended with an exhibition of some chocolate sculptures and watching a demo of how chocolates are made.

In order to fully get your money’s worth out of this you do have to engage with the material – ie read the info on the boards – otherwise you’d get around it super fast. There are some places to taste chocolate on your way round which is a great bonus, but given the number of kids running around screaming and pulling their parent’s arms I’m guessing there isn’t that much for young kids to do, so it might not be the best place for a family trip. I personally found it really interesting though (much more than the chip museum which was…. interesting… in a different way) so it’s worth a look!

Other things we did included an audio guided tour in the Bruges Historium, the historical tour of the city (which you can do yourself for free by using a map!) and a boat ride down the canals which was all well worth doing! Everything costed about €8-10, so if you’re on a budget you might have to pick and choose what you do. However, even if you don’t go to the museums or get involved in the activities on offer (like the horse and cart rides or the ice skating which we didn’t get round to doing) you can have a really good time on a budget by spending your time wandering around the stunning city, soaking up the atmosphere and getting as many free chocolate samples as possible!

Thanks for reading, I hope you have a very happy Christmas!

Emma x


Greenbelt and a Change in Direction

Greenbelt and a Change in Direction

Today I’m branching out of recipe writing and so instead I’ve got a post on my recent experience at Greenbelt which has inspired me to take this blog in a new direction. (Quick heads up – the photos in this post aren’t great quality as they were taken on my ipod and not my camera!) For those of you who haven’t come across Greenbelt before it’s a festival at Boughton House in Kettering, traditionally with Christian roots, that is very egalitarian and liberal. Throughout the course of the bank holiday weekend there is a whole range of live music, theatre, art, demonstrations, workshops, poetry, dance, talks, and of course food, all themed around liberation, equality, solidarity, and community. It sounds pretty unconventional as far as most festivals go, but it’s genuinely so lovely as there’s something for absolutely everyone and everyone is so nice!

Several of months ago my god mother was asked to lead a new venue called ‘The Table’, and she asked me to join her on the team. The venue hosted a whole range of chefs focusing on different issues and topics who did really interesting live cooking demonstrations. Our job, as the venue hosts, was to help out the chefs, prep the ingredients and (of course) do the washing up.  I found this so much fun as being so close to all these amazing chefs and seeing how they each use their food to deliver a message or to fight for a cause was really inspiring!

For example, there was one chef, Pheobe Rison, who was from Palestine and was using her food as a way of keeping her Palestinian roots and culture alive, even though she herself had had her Palestinian citizenship taken away from her due to the current political unrest in the country. Her delicious food, combined with her heartfelt stories and the motivation driving her was really moving. I also met lots of other amazing chefs like Jack Monroe, author of Cooking on a Bootstrap, who writes budget for recipes those living on low incomes and for those who have to use foodbanks, and Brett Cobley (aka epivegan) who gave a really interesting demo on vegan cooking. These were really amazing examples of how food can be so much more than just pretty photos on Instagram, and it all made me think about my own cooking and the message I want to give out.

For a while now I’ve felt that it’s time for me to specialise this blog and to make it more than just a bunch of recipes, but it’s taken until now for me to nail down what it is I want to say through my food.  Mental health awareness and support is an issue that has long been very close to my heart. As someone who suffers with mental health problems herself, not to mention knowing lots of other people with mental health issues, I’m really keen on getting people to talk openly about mental health problems and I’d love to use my food to help with this.

It’ll still be me writing the posts and I’ll still be posting recipes that I’ve developed, so you can expect the same kind of food to keep coming (ie my sweet tooth will be going no where!). However, I will also be focusing on dishes that are nutritious, comforting, quick and/or easy (to suit those who are going through a bout of depression and so on) and to acknowledge my own mental health issues through what I’m cooking. For instance I often don’t feel up to writing and I frequently don’t even want to cook or eat, but rather than covering up these times in my life with dishes I made back when I was feeling more stable and putting on a happy front, I’d rather show what I do like to make when I’m going through a bad time, to show support for others who might be going through something similar.

This is a new direction for Cocoa and Thyme and so I understand that this new idea/drive behind my blog might not be for everyone. I’m choosing, however, to take on this new angle in order to be more open and to promote a message that means a lot to me, and I’m hoping that this will be helpful to some people. I’ve got a month of already prepped recipes to post so I’ll get on with those, but after that I’ll start focusing more on mental health well-being and support through my food. I’ll be writing up a more coherent aim for the blog in my bio over the next couple of days, so if this is a bit too much of a ramble for you to decipher give that a read when it comes out! (I will also be changing the name of the blog at some point so keep an eye out for that!)

Thanks for reading! Please let me know what you think of this change in direction, feedback is always valued (providing it’s constructive) and I’d love to hear from you!

Emma x

The 5 Best Cookbooks On The Market!

The 5 Best Cookbooks On The Market!

If you’ve been following my social media then you’ll know that August is going to be a book-themed month here on Cocoa and Thyme. That means that all my recipes will be inspired by various books that I’ve been recommended to read by you guys! So as an intro to my month of book themed recipes I thought I’d do a little book review to branch out of the world of recipe writing and into reviewing. Here’s a speedy tour of my current 5 favourite cookbooks that I’d recommend to anyone looking for one at the moment. These cover all kinds of genres, layouts and themes, so there’s something for everyone, from a fellow foodie to a chilled out home cook…

Gather – by Gill  Meller

I first came across this beautiful book in the shop at Blenheim palace whilst on an art trip (as you do).  I remember flicking through the pages and instantly falling in love with it because of the gorgeous images and layout. Rather than being split into chapters like the classic starters, main course, dessert, and so on, ‘gather’ is split up by locations. Each chapter starts with a stunning photograph of a garden, moorland, woodland, harbour etc, and is followed by a mouth watering array of recipes using ingredients from those environments. Whilst it’s all just photos and words, this book really makes you feel like you’re on a boat, bobbing across the ocean about to catch a lobster, or foraging in the woods for chestnuts!

The quality of the recipes is also great for any budding chef, as each one is really interesting and accomplished! I wouldn’t say that it’s the best book for beginners as the recipes, whilst not all technically challenging, could appear a bit daunting. That said, this is perfect for anyone who loves trying new things, is a landscape lover like me, or who is looking for some recipes that are a bit different to the stuff you’ll find online or in your standard cookbook.


Comfort – by John Whaite

This next one was given to me by my sister for my birthday this year, and I’m obsessed with it! All the recipes and photos make you drool as you flick through the pages, with delicious, nostalgic treats tumbling out of the pages. A great feature is that there’s a good range of original and classic, easy and more challenging dishes in here, so it’s perfect for all types of cooks who love a bit of home comfort. There’s also a good mixture of sweet and savoury dishes in this one, which I think is really nice as a lot of books focus primarily on one or the other. The only criticism I can give here is that this is not something you should buy for someone on a diet! The catch phrase on the front cover ‘food to south the soul’ is definitely accurate, but it won’t slim your waistline!


Sweet – by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh 

Third one on the list is this incredible Bible of sweet treats! What I really love about this one is that it’s jam packed with all the kinds of things you’d expect a book like this to have – ie biscuits, cakes, sweets and so on, but all of the recipes are really original and not like anything I’ve come across before. This makes it a really valuable inspiration book as much as a recipe book, as you won’t just be seeing the same old Victoria jam sponge, or chocolate chip cookies, but instead your eyes will be opened to all kinds of flavour combos and other things you could be making.

Like with ‘gather’ up above, this one probably isn’t the best one to go for if you’re a complete beginner (looking for step by step guidance as to how to crack an egg and so on) as it doesn’t cover the basics/classics that much. But anyone else from basic to expert will have a blast with this book!

Scandikitchen: Fika and Hygge – by Bronte Aurell

This one may appear humble and homey at first sight, but is an absolute must-have for anyone who has an interest in foreign baking/cooking. This collection of Scandinavian bakes are all really interesting, unusual and, most importantly, delicious! The book is also full of beautiful photographs, both of the food and of the Author’s home, which  gives it a really lovely homey feel and makes you want to go home and start baking with your family. I’ve also come across loads of new bakes in here that I’d never even heard of before. That amazing sticky kladdaka chocolate cake I made at Christmas was inspired by a white chocolate version I saw in here!

So if you’re looking for a little bundle of comfort which will make you want to hop over to Scandinavia just so you can eat some of these treats wrapped up in front of the fire with a good cup of coffee, this is the one for you!


Naples and the Amalfi Coast – by The Silver Spoon

So the final book on my top 5 is this beauty on the cuisine of the Amalfi coast in Italy. My Mum and I visited Sorrento, a little town in this region, a couple of years ago, and so when I saw this book full of recipes inspired by the area I had to get it! Unlike all the other books on this list, this one has a lot of food writing in it, and by that I mean pages of descriptive writing about the cuisine of the area. This makes it perfect for anyone with an interest in Italian cuisine, or the area in general, who wants to learn lots about the local produce and dishes. The book also contains lots of recipes, which is great because you can read all about Sorrento lemons (for example) and then there’ll be a delicious classical Amalfi recipe for you to try which uses lemons!

The Silver Spoon Kitchen, author of the book, has also written other books like this based on Tuscany, Puglia and so on. Whilst I haven’t read these books myself, if they’re anything like this one and you’re interested in cuisine from that region they’re worth buying!

Thanks for reading! This was my first review so let me know if you like this kind of thing and if you want to see more of it. Also please drop a comment and let me know what you think about these books – have you read any of them yourself? Would you recommend any others?

Emma x