Marc Verhagen (46), is an Antwerpenaar by adoption. The Dutch-born has been running publishing imprint Luster for six years now, building it into a company that releases close to 20 titles a year – from books on photography and interior design to its famed “The 500 hidden secrets” series. Here, he reveals some of his favourite local addresses, from star-studded restaurants to cutesy surrounding villages.
Let’s start with a few restaurants: there is Bún (Sint-Jorispoort 22, 2000), a very nice but very small Vietnamese restaurant. The owner is the sister of the owner of Little Asia in Brussels. So it’s a very small restaurant but very friendly and with nice food, like spring rolls, steamed buns, squid. It’s very cozy and located in the centre of Antwerp. Another Asian restaurant is Lam & Yin, a Chinese restaurant, and I think its’ the only chinese restaurant in Antwerp, maybe in Belgium, with a Michelin star. It’s not fancy at all, it’s a real zen interior with minimalistic deco, quite sober. Its’ run by a Chinese couple: the man is in the kitchen and the wife serves the patrons.The wines are specially selected to go with Chinese food, done by Steve Bette (a former sommelier for Dôme restaurant). You have to make a reservation upfront – I think it takes a few weeks because the restaurant’s small and very popular. Dôme sur Mer (Arendstraat 1, 2018) is a seafood restaurant. You can go there for lunch, but I’d rather go for a light dinner of very fresh sea food, mussels, oysters and really fresh fish. Veranda (Guldenvliesstraat 60, 2600) is closed now for renovations, but when it reopens it is certainly worth a visit as it’s a cosy place with great food. It’s been closed for six months now, but should reopen in February. Another nice spot in the middle of the city is Bourla (Graanmarkt 7, 2000), a very easy-going place close to our office, so we often go there. It’s a real brasserie, an old building, always with a lot of people around who go there for breakfast, lunch or dinner, or just for a drink. Bourla offers typical Belgian food, like fries and stoofvlees, or steak with fries. They also have good salads. It’s not very gastronomic but the food is great, and a very friendly atmosphere with really nice people. For coffee, I like Normo (Minderbroedersrui 30, 2000). It’s a coffee shop run by two very relaxed guys who love to explain what they are making for you. You can stay as long as you want, so a lot of people work there on their laptops. Just around the corner is Stieglitz 19 (Klapdorp 2, 2000), run by a very enthusiastic guy with a good nose for new talent. For instance, a few years ago he launched the work of Lara Gasparotto, a Belgian photographer. He also shows photographers from abroad, from China. They always have a good exhibition going on. You can combine a visit of Stieglitz with a coffee at Normo. In the south district of Antwerp, you have the Vitrine, a great place to have a drink. It’s open all day until midnight, and is especially nice in the summer because it’s on a big square where there is a lot of ambience – a bit of an older public, but it’s cool. I also like the going to Cinema Cartoons (Kaasstraat 4, 2000). Being more of an alternative cinema, it’s a bit smaller than the commercial cinemas and you can see movies there that they don’t show in the bigger cinemas. It is less luxurious but so much cooler. Cinema Cartoons is near Arte restaurant, which I think might be the favorite restaurant of Matthias Schoenaerts, a Belgian actor – every time I go to this pizzeria, he is there. You can eat there until twelve a’clock. Another nice place is a shop called the Copyright (Nationalestraat 28/A, 2000). This is a great bookshop with books on architecture, art, photography, food and design. They have beautiful books and the store itself is also very beautiful. Vincent Van Duysen, quite a famous Belgian architect, designed it about 15 years ago, but it is timeless and one of the most beautiful bookstores in Belgium. Then for shopping there is A.P.C. (Lombardenvest 12, 2000). I like the style of the brand: very simple and sober. A.P.C. has stores in lots of cities, but the one here in Antwerp is small, and I like it because they don’t have an overwhelming number of items to choose from, so it’s more efficient to go shopping there – you can choose between five trousers and six pullovers, so within five minute you know if there is something for you or not. For bread you have Bakkerij ‘bakkertje’ Goossens (Isabellalei 6, 2018) as we call it in Antwerp. It’s a very small shop and has been around for about 100 or so and because it’s very small, there is always a queue up front, but the bread is fantastic. Another great store is IMS, the International Magazine store, which is close to our offices (Meir 78, 2000). They have a lot of magazines – if you can think of one, they have it. I can browse there for hours. If friends are visiting, I would go to the Middelheimmuseum (Middelheimlaan 61, 2020), an open-air museum in a big park just outside the city. The Middelheimmuseum has a lot of statues, and there is always and exhibition going on. There is a lot of good architecture in that park as well, with Robbrecht en Daem, who build the Het Huis pavilion there (they will soon build a new building for VRT). The museum has a big playground for children as well. For a day trip, if you go about 30 km outside of Antwerp, just on the other side of the Dutch border, there is an area on the seaside that is a nice piece of nature. You have the low and high tides, and it just makes for a nice walk along the marshes on a Sunday. You can just enjoy nature, with all the birds. There is also a village nearby called Lillo, it’s an nice little village on the old harbor, along the Schelde, with nice restaurants and a café. Oh, and The Julien Hotel (Korte Nieuwstraat 24, 2000) is known by lot of people, but it opened a private spa about a year ago in their basement and you don’t have to be a guest at the hotel to be allowed in. It’s a very nice place, in the historic center, in a historic building of about 400 years old and very well renovated, with great ambience. It’s really an oasis in the middle of the city as it’s very quiet with not too many people. Once you leave the hotel, it is ‘rush rush rush,’ but as soon as you go in, the atmosphere is totally different. Finally, if you really want to get to know Antwerp, I know a very good city guide called Tanguy Ottomer, he was mentioned by CNN as one of the best city guides in the world, and he is also just a very nice guy. He really knows how to talk about the city; he loves it and knows a lot about it. So if you are planning to go to Antwerp, it’s a great idea to have a walk around with him.