Viewing: Belgium

Let’s Do Brunch in… Antwerp

I’ve been grounded for almost five months and I’m itching to travel again! With the baby, our trips need to be short and easy, so I’m looking at cities within a short train ride from Amsterdam.

One of them is Antwerp, where Marlon and I went last year for a half-day trip. That just wasn’t enough to fully explore this beautiful, design-savvy city, and I’d love to return. When I do, I’ll make it a point to stop by this month’s brunch place, recommended by guest blogger Noortje Emmerink of Peppermint, who has lived and worked in Antwerp as a fashion designer and stylist.

Although I only met Noortje very briefly at the Meet the Blogger last year, it’s easy to keep in touch with someone in blogland. I’ve kept up with Noortje’s blog because of her eye for design, cool and colorful style and fun, light feel.

True to her style, she’s chosen a place that’s as cool, colorful, fun and light as her blog. Find out what it is, after the jump!

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Shock-o-latier

Just off the Meir, Antwerp’s most important shopping street, is the one of the city’s most important monuments: the Rubenshuis. (Note: in Dutch, the vowel pairing ui is pronounced “au,” so you literally say Rubens’ house.) I was surprised at how massive it was; clearly, unlike other famous Dutch artists—Van Gogh comes to mind—Peter Paul Rubens enjoyed commercial success during his lifetime.
Unfortunately, with all the eating and shopping, Marlon, Yeho and I didn’t catch up to the Rubenshuis before closing time. To console ourselves, we backtracked to an interesting building just around the corner from the Rubenshuis—the Paleis op de Meir
A 250 year-old building with an illustrious list of owners from Napoleon to William I of the Netherlands to the Belgian Royal family, the Paleis now houses a brasserie, heritage foundation, ballroom-turned-party-venue, and a chocolate shop. A visit to Belgium is not complete without a box of Belgian chocolates to take home, so we stepped into the latter for a visit. 
The Chocolate Line is a Michelin-listed chocolatier established by Fabienne DeStaerke and Dominique Persoone in Brugge. This second shop in Antwerp works out of Napoleon’s former kitchen, which you can step into for a view of the chocolatiers in action. 

Also on display in the the kitchen was a gown created for Miss Belgium entirely out of Belgian chocolate. I immediately notified our resident pageant expert, but he was unable to ID the candidate and year. If it were me, this dress would probably not have made it out of my boudoir. #nomnomnom 

Dominique Persoone calls himself a “shock-o-latier” due to the unique and inventive flavor combinations used in his chocolates. The only thing I really found shocking in his shop was this giant photograph of nude models strewn in an alley, like corpses drizzled in chocolate. It reminded me of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre as depicted in the French film Queen Margot with Isabelle Adjani. Yikes.

Naturally, we couldn’t leave without sampling the goods. We settled on a box of 250 grams, or about 14 pieces, for €14.50.

Our box included such flavors as mocha ganache, coriander and salted peanut, basil with olives and sun-dried tomato chutney, and lavender.

What’s left of our box now: pralines with sake, wasabi, saffron and curry powder, and bacon. Yes, bacon. I’m saving that for last.

Shopping in Antwerp

A few days ago, Marlon said to me, “If we lived in Belgium, we’d be really fat and really poor.” Because there’s nothing I want to do on my return trip to Antwerp except eat and shop, eat and shop, eat and shop. I didn’t quite get enough of that during our day trip a few weeks ago!
I would have liked to step into Het Modepaleis, housed in a lovely Art Deco building on shopping street Nationalestraat, to pay obeisance to Dries Van Noten. But being a couchwife with an irregular income doesn’t afford me that luxury, so I had to be content with snapping a photo.
Slightly closer to, but still nowhere within my meager means was Allsaints Spitalfields, a brand that’s completely new to me.

Its shop window, with its massive collection of vintage sewing machines, was the kind of display that promises all sorts of awesomeness inside.


I wanted to take home everything, but sadly, it was not to be. I did put some of my favorites up on my Pinterest board for future reference. I’ll be back for one of you, my pretties. 

Afterwards, we headed to the Meir, a wide pedestrian boulevard that is Antwerp’s biggest and most famous shopping street. I haven’t been to a mall since my last trip home, but the Stadfeestzal (City Festival Hall), a turn-of-the-century government building converted into a shopping center, beckoned with its stately grandeur.

Inside: glass-domed ceilings, mosaic floors, and marble staircases. Sumptuous! But that’s not what sent my jaw crashing to the floor.

What really got me was the presence of an Urban Outfitters in the building. Urban Outfitters! Three floors! Why do we not have this in Holland?!

I may not be able to afford Dries Van Noten or even, Allsaints, but I can definitely cough up enough change for Urban Outfitters. So I disappeared into the madness and found a few pretty things to take home. Check out my goodies, after the cut!


Purchase number one: gray velvet mullet dress (short in front, long in back), on sale for €20 (Php 1,200). I can’t wait for warmer weather so I can wear it out with just a black leather jacket.

For some reason, I’ve had velvet on the brain lately. So I also picked up a pencil skirt in a magenta stretch velvet, to go with all my black tops and a favorite gray sweatshirt from Muji.  This was a bargain at €10 (about Php 600). 

 

There was a time when I thought if I saw another thing shaped like a heart (or even the comment “Heart this!”) on Pinterest, I would vomit. I really have to choke back the hurl now, because I fell for these emerald green patent loafers with… a tiny heart cutout. *hangs head*

The cherry on my shopping sundae (or dame blanche, since this is Belgium we’re talking about) was the abundance of affordable vintage clothes in Antwerp. In a small vintage store called Sussies on Kammenstraat (with a great selection of pieces), my inner magpie/old lady was drawn to this glittery cardigan with a Missoni-esque pattern for just €10, or Php 600. Faithful jeans and white tank top, meet your newest friend.

I barely scratched the surface, but just by ducking into a few more stores it was easy to establish that vintage shopping here is way, way cheaper than it is in Amsterdam.

And that is why I can’t wait to go back to Antwerp. Next time, I’m taking all my pennies with me!

Antwerp by day, Antwerp by night

Marlon and I recently had a weekend visit from his cousin Yeho, who lives in Heidelberg, Germany. At her behest (and with her car), we drove down to Antwerp for the day. I’ve always wanted to go, and the car was the catalyst for me to finally overcome my inertia. Clocking in at just 2.5 hours, it’s a really easy drive. Yes, Belgium is the new Batangas.

We left at around noon and arrived in the center of town in time for a late lunch, and started the drive back a little after dinnertime. Having two meals in Antwerp was of paramount importance, since Belgium smacks the Netherlands to the ground in terms of cuisine.

For me, a visit to Belgium is not complete without a large pot of mussels, a Belgian beer, and a fantastic dessert—usually a dame blanche (“white lady”), a childhood favorite of mine and the Belgian equivalent of a hot fudge sundae. Some say it’s a Catholic vs Protestant thing, while others ascribe it to proximity to France, but whatever the reason is, I am gobsmacked by how meals can be so radically different just across the border!

In between meals, we strolled, shopped and saw a few sights. With only a few hours at our disposal, we barely scratched the surface. Luckily, we were parked right in the center of town, so leaving the car in the afternoon and returning to it at in the evening gave us the opportunity to see some of Antwerp’s iconic buildings in two distinct lights.

The Cathedral of Our Lady was closed, so we missed out on some of Peter Paul Rubens’ most famous works housed within. We did get nice day vs night views of this impressive Gothic structure…

… as well Grote Markt, or Old Market Square. It was a smaller-scale version of Brussels’ Grand Place, with similar gabled guild houses. A big difference is in what it’s called; I didn’t see any signs pointing to a Grand Place here. Being so close to the Netherlands, Dutch is more widely spoken in Antwerp than French; our smattering of Nederlands actually helped us get around and read menus. Here’s the Grote Markt by day… 
… and by night. If the perpetual rain is good for anything, it’s for making cobblestones gleam. 
On one side of the Grote Markt is the Stadhuis, or City Hall. Again, by day… 
… and by night. 
Driving into the city, our curiosities were piqued by this stunning building. It turned out to be the Museum aan de Stroom, or MAS, a museum about the city of Antwerp “and its relationship with the world.”  (Iiiiiinteresting.) Built by famous Belgian architects Neutelings Riedijk, Antwerp’s history as an important port city inspired this design of shipping containers stacked in a spiral. We returned in the evening, but the museum was already closed; this definitely warrants a return trip! 

Fortunately, the surrounding quayside, Het Eilandje (“The Islet”), was also a good area to end up in, being a former port area with interesting bars and restaurants. It was hard to get into a restaurant without a reservation, but we managed to find a table at a great bar called Het Duvels Genot (literally, “The Duvel Enjoyment”… kind of like the Heineken Experience, I guess). 
I’ve learned to expect crappy food when I walk into a bar in Amsterdam, but Belgium thoroughly has a leg up in this area. We had an awesome meal cooked with a variety of beers from the Duvel brewery, with hearty portions and reasonable prices. It was another one of those times where I was so involved with my food, I totally forgot to take pictures. Definitely a good reason (of many!) to make a return trip.

Me & Mamy Louise

On our last visit to Brussels nearly two years ago, Uncle David introduced us to a very special lady in his life: Mamy Louise.

A beloved neighborhood restaurant in the suburb of Uccle where he lives, Mamy Louise is where he and Michele would often end up when they aren’t in the mood to cook at home (which, I understand, is pretty often). My sister, Marlon and I all fell in love at first bite, particularly with their scrumptious gaufre de Bruxelles, otherwise known as the Belgian waffle, with chantilly cream and white chocolate.

Mamy’s gaufre was one of the first things that popped into my mind and got me salivating when I started planning this weekend trip to Brussels. So it was totally awesome that we headed there for Sunday lunch.

We began the three hour-long lunch with their signature aperitif, champagne with some peach liqueur, mint leaves and… an ice cube. Unusual to have ice with champagne, but it works really well here.

To start, Marlon and Uncle David both ordered the poached egg with bone marrow, which I’m sure my sister would have loved.

I was torn between the winning mushroom toast, which I’ve had before, and this ravioli with goose liver. As you can see, goose liver won.

For mains, I had a braised rabbit with tagliatelle in a sweet onion and wholegrain mustard sauce. Kill me now. (Said the rabbit.)

And of course, I couldn’t leave without sinking my teeth into the famous gaufre de Bruxelles. Crispy, warm, airy and soft, with hits of extra sweetness from the white chocolate nuggets mixed into the chantilly cream, this is a Belgian waffle that makes any other Belgian waffle (Starbucks, I’m mostly talking to you) about as light and tasty as a toilet seat cover.

Marlon’s stuffed smile and glazed-over eyes? I had them too. Somehow we managed to battle the food coma long enough to pack ourselves off to the train station, board to our train, and make it back to Amsterdam without passing out or giving away our belongings to enterprising thieves. And I spent Monday with a very upset stomach. I guess it didn’t want to go back to Amsterdam after a weekend like this.

Aux Armes de Bruxelles

I am borderline obsessive-compulsive when it comes to creating travel itineraries. To that rule, Brussels is the exception. Literally, I just show up and go along for the ride. With a hyper-organized, large-living gourmand behind the wheel.

Marlon, who had his first Brussels experience, Uncle David style, a year and a half ago, said it was like being a kid again and letting your parents be in charge of everything. Which you kind of miss after you start working. And which is really nice.
I’ve never given much thought to things I wanted to do or see in Brussels; there was one time when I decided I wanted see what the vintage shopping scene was like and that was about it. I’ve never set foot in a museum. To me, Brussels is all about family and food. Like a vulture, I just swoop in and eat. And eat and eat and eat.
Saturday night dinner was in the centre of town, a few streets from the Grand Place. Aux Armes de Bruxelles is right across the landmark Chez Leon, tourists’ go-to restaurant for Brussels’ famous mussels (“more well known, but not as good,” said our gourmand.)

The one thing that I forgot to do before leaving for Brussels was… go on a fast. That’s because meals with Uncle David are always, always decadent three-hour affairs. Three courses, plus aperitif and at least one bottle of wine. And God forbid you skip one of those courses, even when you feel stuffed to bursting. That’s just the way it is. It’s tough, but someone’s got to do it.
For starters we shared not one, but two plates of the raw mussels with lemon and mustard sauce. I must eat more raw seafood in three days in Brussels than I do in a full year anywhere else, sushi and all.

Marlon had the veal brain with tartare sauce, which certainly fulfills his restaurant criteria of “something I can’t or won’t make at home.” It was surprisingly good, but too rich for me.

I had raw oysters, yum. I get a kick out of squeezing lemon onto the oysters and watching them squirm. Yes, they’re still alive. So far Brussels is the only place where I can get live raw oysters.

For mains, I had escargot in puff pastry. “Snails as an entree?” asked Uncle David with a raised eyebrow. There are strict protocols, you know.

Marlon stayed true to his carnivorous roots and ordered the rack of lamb.

And for dessert, we had crepes flambees with vanilla ice cream. Mmmm.

We ended the night with a stroll around the Grand Place, which was gorgeous as always, especially with the lights shining off the wet cobblestones. I must have seen it half a dozen times, but it never gets old.