Looking for Antwerp restaurants? Antwerp, Belgium’s cosmopolitan port-side city, known as a diamond brokering hub, is also one of Europe’s leading art and design centres. The capital of Flemish-speaking Flanders, it also boasts a thriving food scene; from Belgian beers and frites in the Het Eilandje historic centre’s baroque buildings and gothic streets, to new-wave coffee shops and hip little bistros in trendy Het Zuid, the southern quarter.
Best vegetarian food in Antwerp – Graanmarkt 13
Each floor of this multi-storey building is as stylish as the next. Part concept store, part apartment, Graanmarkt 13 also has a trendy restaurant in the basement. Chef Seppe Nobels uses locally sourced ingredients and cultivates herbs and honey on his rooftop allotment.
The two-course lunch and three-course dinner menus at Graanmarkt 13 focus on seasonal vegetables, with dishes such as carpaccio of Portobello mushroom with walnuts, mustard seeds and fermented garlic, and chocolate desserts featuring Jerusalem artichoke. A choice of fish or meat is accompanied by vegetarian tapas-style dishes (turnip stuffed with kohlrabi salsa and sheep’s cheese, puffed quinoa-coated corn on the cob, Greek salad made with greens grown in Antwerp).
If you prefer to grab and go, a swish Culinary Surprise Truck parks outside from midday to 8pm, Thursday to Saturday. Try epic beef tartare on a crusty pistolet (a speciality Belgian bread roll) with pickle juice mayo and spindly purple rocket.
Best bar in Antwerp – De Muze
De Muze has been going since the 1960s and has a distinguished reputation amongst Antwerp’s jazz lovers and beer drinkers. Sprawled over three floors, spiral staircases twist up through the brick-lined, barn-like space where you can find little balconies to perch on and catch a glimpse of the stage below.
De Muze has a very approachable, laid-back crowd, with not an ounce of the snobbery that some jazz bars have. Musicians rest their Belgian beers on the speakers, piano and bar and take sips between jams, while locals and tourists alike tap their toes to the grooves.
Best coffee shop in Antwerp – Normo Coffee
This pretty, tiled coffee shop, on the corner of a cobbled square, is popular among local coffee aficionados. Why? Because it’s jam-packed with geeky coffee equipment, from a large black Marzocco Strada espresso machine to a slick table-top grinder. Five V60 filters are lined up along one side of the coffee counter, balanced on copper pipes, ready to brew smooth filter coffees. If you’ve had too much caffeine that day, try a refreshing ginger lemonade for something punchy and uplifting.
The shabby-chic vibe (uncovered brick walls, mismatched repurposed tiles, large sharing tables) lends itself to kicking back for a couple of hours with an espresso, filter coffee or flat white.
Best Belgian cafe in Antwerp – Café de Kat
We loved the laid-back calm in this old-style, mustard-tiled Belgian café bar. Founded in 1912, it has been passed down through three generations of women. Don’t expect anything too fancy: visiting here is all about stepping back in time, enjoying Belgian beers on tap (De Koninck and a dark ale brewed by monks) and listening to jazz crackling through the tin speakers.
Sit back against paneled, mirrored walls on a battered leather banquette along the back with a vista of buzzy daily life outside and a slice of old times inside.
Best cakes in Antwerp – Domestic Bakkerij
The architecture is beautiful inside and out at this bakery, with a marble counter displaying patisserie and a small section at the back dedicated to artisan products, many of which are French. Try one of its intricate cakes – we loved our chocolate éclair filled with vanilla cream and topped with raw cacao nibs, or go for a pistachio cream tart topped with fresh raspberries, or even a bokkepootjes (goat’s feet), a chocolate-dipped meringue and almond biscuit, stuffed with butter cream, that resembles a little hoof.
Pop upstairs to the recently opened tea salon to linger over an afternoon tea of savoury mouthfuls, scones and sweet treats, served with tea or coffee from Antwerp’s own Kolonel Koffee micro roaster. Little velvet pouffes and squishy banquettes line the paneled rooms, with Aztec carpets providing a catwalk down the middle. One room is completely pink, the other has mustard and gold hues.
Best street food in Antwerp – Wurst
Enjoy a gourmet hot dog with a view of the gothic Cathedral of Our Lady. This ‘haute dog’ joint pimps up hot dogs with all kinds of vibrant toppings, from Italian flavours in the bellucci (melanzane, rocket, pesto, Parmesan, prosciutto) to Mexican twists (corn bread crumbs, guacamole, coriander and jalapeños). Fans of the reuben sandwich can enjoy its classic flavours in a ‘hot god’, with piccolo, swiss cheese, sauerkraut, pastrami and pickle. This is fast food with a layer of haute cuisine, originally from Leuven in North Belgium.
Best frites in Antwerp – Frites Atelier
Considering the country’s reputation for frites, it seems a bit odd that the current most talked about ‘frituur’ in Antwerp actually comes from Amsterdam. Led by Dutch Michelin-starred chef Sergio Herman, however, when the frites are this golden and crisp (like perfect roast potatoes) it doesn’t matter that they may not be traditionally Flemish.
Watch the chefs pour bowls of freshly fried golden chips and assemble gourmet toppings. These include traditional Flemish beef stew slow-cooked in brown beer and sprinkled with pickled mustard seeds, or sweet and nutty mimolette cheese with truffle mayo. Choose from five varieties of mayo, from classic to curry to Béarnaise.
This frituur is also much more upmarket than some of the city’s more traditional chip shops, with huge marble counters, a giant mosaic logo embedded into the wooden floorboards, and marble sauce decanters fitted with gold taps. Stand round a high table outside or, if you’re lucky, bag one of the banquettes to sit round one of the handful of tables inside.
Best chocolate shop in Antwerp – The Chocolate Line
The grand palace that this chocolatier is housed in gives Belgium’s most famous product the reverence it deserves. Tucked away off Antwerp’s main shopping street, the Meir, The Chocolate Line is a chocolate shop and working chocolate factory.
Pick from cabinets of jewel-like treats, from traditional pralines to more unusual chocolates (try the sake-infused chocolate). Don’t leave without paying a visit to the chocolate lab at the back, where liquid chocolate is poured into moulds and crafted to form elaborate statues.
Best brewery in Antwerp – De Koninck Brewery
If you want a taste of Belgian beer during your stay in Antwerp, De Koninck Brewery is a must. This interactive tour is fun and informative.
Sip on samples of De Koninck’s brews (including its signature Bolleke Koninck beer) as you learn about the blends through sight, smell and sound. Make sure you factor in time to enjoy the smart tasting tray of beers in the bar at the end, and visit Van Tricht, the on-site cheesemonger, to try the creamiest Belgian cheeses.
Where to eat and drink in Antwerp’s Het Zuid (South District)
Best brunch in Antwerp – Tinsel
This tiny spot near the museum district is a lesson in how to do ‘homemade’ well. The counter at the back heaves with freshly made biscuits, conserves and little bottles of iced ginger tea, with brown paper bags of homemade cinnamon-y granola to take away.
If you’d prefer to stay put, bag a spot at the wooden sharing table, hop onto a stool in the window or sink into a wicker chair in the pretty plant-filled alcove to enjoy a lazy brunch. Try scrambled eggs with roast red peppers, pumpkin seeds, feta and smoked paprika with homemade bread, or overnight chia oats with orange marmalade, cardamom and pistachios with a booster ginger spice shot.
Tinsel allows vegan dishes to shine, from pickled carrots on toast with spicy red pepper hummus, to roast pumpkin and parsnip salad with kale and parsnip dressing, and even vegan French toast with grilled pears, roasted hazelnuts and maple.
Best bakery in Antwerp – Dellafille
Dellafaille has been baking for 80 years and counting. Pop in to this corner patisserie and bakery to pick up perfect little cakes and pastries – mini javanais sponge cakes with layers of almond sponge and coffee buttercream with thick chocolate ganache topping, intricate lemon meinrgue pie towers, or crisp pastries (chocoladebroodje pain au chocolats, apple turnovers and donut-like boule de berlin) to accompany your coffee. Do like the trendy Zuid locals and enjoy them sitting up at the marble counter.
There are blocks of Belgium’s famous cinnamon-y speculaas biscuits, and cellophane ribbon-tied versions, to take home as edible souvenirs. They even have eight types of Belgian pistolets in different shapes and sizes (tiger pistolet, black forest dark rye studded with seedsm elongated Parisienne, and poppyseed to name a few).
Best cocktail bar in Antwerp – Bar Burbure
There’s a glamorous, art-deco vibe to this corner cocktail bar in Het Zuid. Jade green and dark tones are brightened up with pale wood, copper fixtures and striking mirrors, and there’s a well-stocked bar of spirits in the corner. There’s an impressive cocktail list, too, with classics and the bar’s signature mixes. Try The Salty Mexican, a blend of mezcal, cynar (a bittersweet Italian liqueur made from artichoke leaves, popular in Antwerp), orange bitters and agave nectar with smoked salt round the rim. Ask for the green club card for exclusive cocktails using aged spirits. For example, the smoked old fashioned using sherry cask-aged Facundo Exquisito rum infused with tobacco, pineapple and vanilla.
Bar Burbure specialises in Vermouths, and makes its own dry and complex Forest Vermouth just outside Antwerp with white chardonnay and sauvignon grapes along with local botanicals and forest herbs such as chamomile, dandelion root, sage, liquorice and cardamom.
Best seafood in Antwerp – Fiskebar
This neighbourhood spot, on Marnixplaats roundabout in Het Zuid, is very popular among locals, selling itself as a light and bright corner room that’s part-living room part-restaurant. The building’s former life as a fishmongers manifests itself in the white tiles, a chalkboard running along the top of the walls, and a poster educating diners on the various species of fish.
Calamari to ceviche of sea bream, shellfish to sole, there are plenty of platters to choose from, along with appetisers of periwinkles and North Sea shrimp, and smart plates of fresh fish adorned with flowers and piped potato purée. Locals head here for the bouillabaisse, a huge portion of tomato-based broth filled with generous chunks of sea bream, sea bass and cod along with razor clams and mussels.
Pop in to chic Osterbar (oyster bar) next door for a round of oysters if you can’t stop for long.
Best foodie shopping in Antwerp – Buchbar
Pigs and farmyard scenes on the tiles skirting the top of the walls are a subtle nod to this small bookshop/café’s former life as a butchers in the 1940s. The owners had to leave during the war, and the shop is now a gallery where the owners curate books, stationery and postcards. Shelves are lined with bright and colourful memorabilia – a blow-up parrot, table tennis bats, plants.
Try a De Drie Wilgen organic juice, made in a town 20km outside Antwerp from freshly pressed apples and beetroot. Delve further into the back of the shop to the bright yellow café alcove and enjoy coffee and homemade cakes (wild berry crumble tart, gluten-free pear, almond and polenta cake).
Best food market in Antwerp – (Super) Mercado
Combine street food with Belgian beers and live music at Mercado food hall. This indoor food market has plenty of cheap, casual dining options – the quirky sushi ‘burger’ from Nemo sushi, Baba Beirut’s Middle Eastern veggie wraps, or dim sum from dumpling shack Sum Sum.
Catch one of the late-night sessions (Thursday to Saturday) to listen to various genres of live music. You may find yourself, as we did, hopping along to Belgian folk music with local twenty-somethings.
Where to stay in Antwerp – Hotel Pilar
Looking for a great-value Antwerp hotel? This neighbourhood restaurant, bar and boutique hotel, on one of Zuid’s most lively squares, is a lesson in contemporary design. The rooms all boast unique features – from the ‘classic’ room’s concrete ceiling and black freestanding bath, to the ‘gold’ room’s namesake gold wall behind the bed (plus it has a green-tiled bath fit for a mermaid), and the ‘eco’ room’s many textures, including earthy walls, wooden floorboards on the ceiling, and a wooden bathtub. Terrace suites have private balconies where you can watch the sunset.
Homely touches are evident in each room, from the hotel’s bespoke wool blankets in intense greens and blues, to Le Labo Santal 33 bath products, and coffee machines for early morning wake ups.
Hotel Pilar’s food bar spans the whole of the ground floor, and is dominated by a huge counter where cocktails, coffees and breakfasts are prepared. Elsewhere, little seating areas are dotted around, including a squishy sofa area tucked behind banana plants, and a cushioned bench and tables clinging to a wall lined with mirrors in funky frames.
Breakfast at Hotel Pilar is a choice of three smart breakfast plates – we tried ‘le fish’ with smoked salmon, fresh bread, whipped ricotta and soft boiled egg, but there’s also the more traditional continental ‘pilar’ with croissants, cheese and meats, and a healthy granola breakfast. All come with a fresh juice and your choice of hot drink, served in earthy ceramic mugs.
How to get to Antwerp
Hop on the Eurostar at London St Pancras and pull in three hours later, via a quick change in Brussles, to Antwerp’s stunning art nouveau railway station, Central. Return fares start from £70 (eurostar.com).
Photographs and words by Alex Crossley
Here are more Antwerp tips from local foodie Frank Cops…
Best local café in Antwerp – Vitrin
Pass through Marnixplaats, in the city’s trendy south side, and you can’t miss café Vitrin. Beyond its huge windows lies a cosy, wooden interior, but the outside bench is a better spot on a warm spring day. Stop for a spritz (€4), served in a crystal glass.
Best meatballs in Antwerp – Balls ‘n’ Glory
In a strikingly converted warehouse, Balls ‘n’ Glory serves quality meatballs made with meat produced on the owners’ farm. The range includes canapé-sized balls to go with an aperitif and a variety of larger ‘glory’ balls, served with homemade stoemp (mashed potato with vegetables); the latest addition is a smoked celeriac version (€12).
Best fine dining restaurant in Antwerp – The Jane
A former chapel, The Jane restaurant is the city’s hottest table, with Chefs Sergio Herman (who ran the three Michelin-starred Oud Sluis) and Nick Bril in the kitchen. Signature dishes include sea bass with fennel, dill and horseradish snow (seven courses €75).
Best fun breakfast in Antwerp – Wasbar
A launderette, bar and café, Wasbar is open all day for cold beers and salads. Go early, though, and order the breakfast deal: €10 buys you fresh juices, coffee, bread, yoghurt and a pastry.
Best cocktails in Antwerp – Brasserie Appelmans & Absinthbar
The kitchen at Brasserie Appelmans & Absinthbar does a brisk trade in stews, steaks and pastas (mains from €17.50), but its two cosmopolitan bars are also popular. Try a Martini d’Anvers (€9.50), made with Eristoff vodka, Elixir d’Anvers and Peychaud’s bitters.
Best bistro in Antwerp – L’épicerie du Cirque
At L’épicerie du Cirque, in the south of the city, chef Dennis Broeckx serves contemporary terroir-based food with flair. Go à la carte, or opt for the six-course Les Saveurs du Cirque menu (€65) and try the likes of salsify with bulgar and truffle, scallops with sausage and lemon thyme and Saint Maure cheese with pear and chicory.
Looking for upmarket Antwerp hotels? Try this one…
Double rooms at Hotel Julien cost from €169, room only (hotel-julien.com).
Photographs: Lennert Deprettere, Piet de Kersgieter, Frederik Vereruysse, Christian Kober/Getty images