Where to eat and drink in Antwerp when The World’s 50 Best Restaurants comes to town – part one

Willem Asaert - 25/02/2020

When it comes to eating and drinking recommendations for visiting a new city, local knowledge is key. Willem Asaert, 50 Best Academy Chair for Benelux, gives the inside line on his hometown and the plum bookings to make. Part One reveals his top under-the-radar restaurants that sit outside of The World's 50 Best Restaurants list and 50 Best Discovery; while Part Two on 4th March will focus on his stand-out bars and pubs

Essential restaurant reservations

You will find the most elegant restaurant interior of the city close to the Cogels-Osylei, in what is one of the most architecturally beautiful streets in Europe. At Dôme, chef Frédéric Chabbert provides a delicious complement to this beautiful historic setting. The Greffeuille lamb grilled on the Binchotan is his signature dish, together with the chocolate cake. If the scallops are on the menu as a starter, they are an absolutely essential order.  
Grotehondstraat 2, tel.: 03 239 90 03, closed Sunday & Monday, domeantwerp.be

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With its centrally located open kitchen and rotisserie spit, the dining room of the Invincible restaurant in the old city centre isn't one of the city's best-known restaurants, but well worth a visit. Kenny Burssens – host, chef, and sommelier on duty – also exudes geniality. He sees gastronomy as an enjoyable challenge in order to give products their maximum flavour and texture through minimal treatment. No more, but no less. He upgrades spit roasted chickens, sole, lobster and more, with a simple garnish and an intense sauce.
Haarstraat 9, tel: 03 231 32 07, closed Saturday & Sunday, invincible.be

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‘t Fornuis

At the ripe age of 70, Johan Segers is the venerable dean of the Antwerp restaurant scene. With his refined and inimitable signature kitchen, he is also regarded as the culinary godfather of the city. He works without a menu, but quietly approaches the table to tell his guests what he and his team have on offer. Croque monsieur with veal brains, or meatball stew with whelks are unmissable and refined Antwerp delicacies, just like his preparation of veal tongue, or hare during the game season. Rustic and elegance go hand in hand here.
Reyndersstraat 24, tel.: 03 233 62 70, closed Saturday & Sunday

Au Vieux Port 
Near the old port, Jan Boogaerts has created a bustling bistro. In Au Vieux Port, cheerful and talkative people from Antwerp enjoy unique cheese croquettes based on four intensely tasting cheeses or perhaps a savoury pie with Basque boudin. Duck à la Rouennaise prepared at the table is another sublime dish, just like the roasted chicken with its elegant gravy, lettuce, fries and mayonnaise.
Napelsstraat 130, tel.: 03 290 77 11, closed Saturday & Sunday  

If you want to experience how the citizens of Antwerp enjoyed restaurants in the 1960s, then restaurant Ciro’s is the place to be. The excellent bourgeois cuisine includes emblematic beef stew and perfect fries. Host Eugène Haesaerts curates Flemish culinary heritage as a nostalgic foodie. He satisfies local diners, critical foodies and people from the art scene. Ciro’s is open all day, every day, which is rather exceptional in a metropolis like Antwerp.
Amerikalei 6, tel.: 03 238 11 47, closed Monday, ciros.be 

With the new owner-sommelier Serge Verboven, restaurant Marcel rapidly increased the quality of its offer. He gave the former Anglican sailor’s church a new form of spirituality, with one of the most beautiful wine cellars in the country. A unique achievement and a fun backdrop when enjoying a plate of salmon smoked on the premises. This delicacy and other classics are the result of the expertise of Patrick Verheire who, in addition to being the cook, is primarily a craftsman, with a nose for fine produce.
Restaurant Marcel, Van Schoonbekeplein 13, tel.: 03 - 336 33 02, closed Saturday lunch & Sunday, restaurantmarcel.be

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Down to Chinatown

Home to 178 different nationalities, Antwerp offers a variety of delicious cuisines that represent food cultures from all over the world. As an international port city, Antwerp has been home to Chinese restaurants since the 1920s. Historically they have been embedded as a non-European kitchen for a century creating a small but atmospheric Chinatown as a result.

Ni Shifu
The most authentic and at the same time most tastefully composed Chinese restaurant in Antwerp is located just outside Chinatown. With this very precise Szechuan cuisine, chef Ni Xue Long from Chengdu brings a true ode to the very spicy and oil-rich oeuvre in restaurant Ni Shifu. He provides refined, nuanced flavours, and pays a lot of attention to separate textures at the same time. A register with its own taste associations around spicy, hot, bitter, salty, and sour, as well as a characteristic mouthfeel around velvety, crispy and full-bodied, mark this regional cuisine. Freshly made dumplings with chilli show the rustic side of this kitchen, where fresh chilli, chilli oil, garlic, and of course Szechuan pepper provide body and soul.
Ni Shifu, Breydelstraat 8, tel.: 03 - 231 64 04, closed Thursday, nishifu.be

Ting Kee Mie
In this tiny noodle shop, chef Chen Hui Min spoils his guests from behind an open bar with, among other things, fine broth enriched with fresh, thin egg noodles, and a scoop of savoury stew, a portion of stewed tendons and wontons filled with scampi.
Ting Kee Mie, Van Wesenbekestraat 5, tel.: 0477 372287

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Lung Wah
This restaurant is perfect territory for taste and texture purists, and is, perhaps, the most original restaurant in Chinatown. By Western standards there are probably better places to visit for a pleasant social gathering, but the food makes it worth it. The lacquered layer of roasted pork and duck is undeniably exquisite when prepared by chef Chan Chi Lap and contains a vibe and dynamism of its own. Here, you can watch the chef at the front of this hole-in-the-wall eatery cleaving pork belly, ribs, whole chickens, ducks, and suckling pigs with Swiss precision into bite-sized pieces. A portion of tightly steamed rice always accompanies the meat. Chef finishes the plate with a spoon of his unique sauce, composed with, among other things, the dripping. gravy and bones of all the delicacies that hang in the window and seasoned with the overwhelming, savoury perfume of five-spice powder mix.
Lung Wah, Van Wesenbekestraat 38, tel.: 03 297 82 58, closed Thursday & Friday

Street Eats

Savoury: fries
The best-known street food in Flanders, and certainly in Antwerp, are potato fries (also known as frieten), perhaps served with a scoop of mayonnaise and a portion of local beef stew. Fries are served in restaurants, brasseries and bistros, but taste best as street food. Fries should be eaten immediately. Once they lose temperature, they also lose their typical taste and distinct texture. There are many places to eat them, but Frituur Falcon, located in the Oude Leeuwenrui between the red-light district and 't Eilandje where the fries area extra tasty, and Frites Atelier in the Korte Gasthuisstraat near the Groenplaats are all worth a visit.
Frituur Falcon, Oude Leeuwenrui 6
Frites Atelier, Korte Gasthuisstraat 32, fritesatelier.com

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Sweet: waffles
For something sweet as a street snack, we can recommend galettes or laquemants waffles. They are a specialty that you can find at public fairs, but are also available all year round at Désiré de Lille in the Schrijnwerkersstraat. The warm thin waffles filled with sticky, fine syrup delight with crispy dough that is flash-baked in hot waffle irons. They are cut open by hand in one smooth motion and enriched with a unique sauce.
Désiré de Lille, Schrijnwerkersstraat 14/16, tel.: 03 233 62 26, desiredelille.be

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The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2020 awards ceremony, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, will take place in Antwerp, Flanders, on 2nd June. For more information and pre-announced awards stay tuned to 50 Best social channels and 50 Best Stories.