I’m the fussiest eater and a sucker for a wacky diet (I once took advice from a ‘doctor’ and avoided blue food). As a near vegan married to a whisky slurping carnivore dining out can be tricky, but in Antwerp that’s because there is so much choice.
You won’t have much time to eat here though. You’ll be whizzing round designer presales, flexing the Amex in fashion stores, fondling modernist antiques or cycling furiously to the latest pop up gallery.
To speed up your foodie adventure, here are some of my favourites:
Light bites and lunches
Vlaamsekaai in the hip southern Zuid district (Het Zuid, pronounced ‘Het Tzerd’ means ‘the south’) is a veritable hotspot for dining. Cafe Zurich (Verlatstraat 2) is one of the best quick, casual Belgian bistros. My friends and I would go here at least monthly for the soup, chargrilled sea bass or shrimp croquettes.
For a casual lunch in the historic city centre sun (or rain… this is Belgium after all) Simply Emily (Hendrik Conscienceplein 11) is young, fun and friendly, and serves really tasty homemade soups and quiches. Musicians often play in the square and the café is one of the best among a hive of tourist traps.
If you’re a near herbivore like me (or even if you’re not) try the wonderfully chaotic Lombardia (Lombardenvest 78) in the Oudaan shopping district. The legendary health food cafe is justifiably popular with locals and international celebs alike. Their Ginger Tea is now so famous it’s sold in UK supermarkets.
De Koninck (Mechelsesteenweg 291) calls itself a microbrewery. I call it a man creche. Based a couple of kilometers outside the centre, the brewery manufactures the Antwerp beer and opened to the public last year, partnering with some of the top foodies in town. The city’s best chocolatier, bakery, cheese ‘affineur’ (don’t you dare call it a cheese shop), and butcher all come under one roof. And on the top of that same roof is an extremely popular barbecue restaurant (Boomgaardstraat 1). To the husband: ‘Off to the shops darling, see you next week!’
OK, when I said I was practically a herbivore, I like fish and I love sushi. And if you try Ko’uzi (Leopoldplaats 12), chances are you will too. Run by a friend of a Japanese Expater friend, the restaurant cum tearoom serves authentically Japanese sushi using European ingredients. It’s rare to find such unusual, innovative, delicious combinations without gimmicks, so much so that I got in touch with the friend to find out more. After lots of messaging in Japanese and Dutch through Google Translate, I’m none the wiser, but who cares? Ko’uzi is incredible.
In the trendy south, Fiskebar (Marnixplaats 11) is hugely popular with a wine list to match its fabulous menu of simple but oh so pretty European sustainable fish. The ‘no nonsense fish and seafood restaurant’ is small and always busy, so please, please, do as the locals do and book ahead, especially on weekends.
It may not compete with Barcelona’s Boqueria in terms of size, but Antwerp’s Super Mercado (Groenplaats 43), housed in a former post office, is just as fun. Not so much of a food market than a series of mini wine bars, tapas joints and cocktail joints, it’s a hip place with local artists, emerging DJs and creative startups.
If you’re in a big group then Felix Pakhuis (Godefriduskaai 30) is your best bet. House in a former docklands warehouse, it offers a huge range of lighter Belgian specialities and Mediterranean dishes. Don’t whinge if your party is restricted to six menu choices – everywhere in Antwerp does this. Get over it and get a Mojito (cocktails here are very good). Brunch here is also fantastic and very child friendly.
With the kids
Ever had that moment on a holiday when you feel in need of a holiday? Parents, I hear you. So does Sensunik (Molenstraat 69), a stylish Belgian bistro with its own nursery. The hubby and I dined in style and calm, watching our little one from the surveillance cameras dotted around the restaurant as he explored the playground upstairs with qualified childcare assistants. Some reckon the food is pricey for what it is, but on rainy, sleep deprived days this place is very, very good value for hungry, exhausted parents.
Taking it up a notch, Michelin star rated Kommilfoo (Vlaamsekaai 17) in the south comes highly recommended for ultra chic fine dining. Interiors are zen, dishes are precise and menus are experimental. Closed on Sunday and Monday.
For fine dining with a view, take the elevator up to the two star t’ Zilte (Hanzestedenplaats 5) on the MAS museum’s rooftop. The tasting menu takes its inspiration from its dockland surroundings with a focus on local fish, but there is meat too and a vegetarian menu is also available. Bizarrely, it’s closed on weekends.
For an unforgettable treat go to The Jane (Paradeplein 1). ‘Food is our religion’ says the chef which explains why an open kitchen takes the place of the altar in this former military hospital chapel. The contemporary restaurant interiors are as beautiful as the dishes. There is currently a three month waiting list and based a few kilometres from the centre, people travel from much, much farther away to dine here.
One final word of advice, avoid the Oude Koornmarkt. Unless you’re a fan of overpriced, microwaved tourist fodder, then move on. Zaowang (Old Koornmarkt 22) for excellent value sushi and Crème de la Crème (Oude Koornmarkt 1) for superb ice cream are the only exceptions to this rule. You have been warned.