Dutch-born Annemarie Zethof (1971) and Martijn van Pieterson (1972) tell us about Antwerp’s charms. Annemarie and Martijn founded Ibasho – bolstering Japanese style photography – early last year, after moving from the financial world in “fast paced” London to a more “relaxing atmosphere” in culturally savvy Antwerp. The couple talks to us about their neighbourhood Zuid district and the spots which are quickly becoming favourites. We hear their tips for kid friendly eateries, alluring concept stores, and Japanese specialties, including award winning sushi.
Martijn: We should start with the hotel we stayed at in the center, which is called Zwanepand (Vlasmarkt 18-20 B). It’s a hotel consisting of several apartments in a very big old house which used to be a coffee place. It was really nice to be smack in the middle of the centre” while getting to know the city; we stayed there for two months. Another place we should mention is Graanmarkt 13, a concept store and a restaurant. The restaurant is very good, but because of the concept they remain without a Michelin star – they have a small set menu for lunch and dinner. The chef, Seppe Nobels, was named ‘vegetable chef of Belgium’. They have an extra space for events and a bed and breakfast. We worked together with some of the staff there, which led to a friendship between our company and theirs. Apart from that, Graanmarkt 13 is definitely one of Antwerp’s hotspots.
Annemarie: When we were in the historic center I discovered this small shop called Robuust, where they don’t use packaging. They sell rice, coffee beans, pasta, granola, muesli, but also sugar, nuts, etc., and everything is kept in big containers. After we moved away from the centre, I think the first thing we discovered was Mampoko (Amerikalei 8), which is a great place for lunch. Next to Mampoko is a really old-fashioned looking restaurant…
Martijn: At first, we did not really want to go in there as there were really only old people sitting there. After we saw some strange looking hip folks going in, we thought ‘what is this place?’ In the end we went inside ourselves and discovered their steak is just unbelievable. I’ve never had a better steak. This place is called Ciros (Amerikalei 6,) and it’s always busy – you can forget about just walking in and getting a table. We often had photographers over from Japan and like to go out here for lunch and we have all of these great little restaurants around the corner. There is Mojo (Kasteelpleinstraat 56), which is a fish restaurant and also always packed. Le John (Kasteelpleinstraat 25) is also a very good restaurant with a French-oriented cuisine.
Annemarie: Le Jonn has a limited menu, with a lot of appetizers and it’s all really top-notch quality. Nearby, you have l’Epicerie du Cirque (Volkstraat 23), which does have a Michelin star. Next to Le John, there is a coffee place-slash-bookstore, Cronopio (Kasteelpleinstraat 21). They have a relaxed atmosphere – you can just spend some time there and have a coffee. There is quite a large bookshop in the center called ´t Stadt Leest (Steenhouwersvest 16), a huge store housed in a beautiful building. They offer a nice mix between books and other accessories, decorations, or postcards, for instance. Across from the bookshop, there is a little shop called Wonderkammer (Steenhouwersvest 13). From the look of it, it might well be run by the same owner as the previous shop; it’s a tiny shop with very beautiful things, like small candles and notebooks or plant holders. If you are looking for a gift for someone, you’ll find it there. They offer something within everyone’s budget. Another similar store on the Kloosterstraat is called The Recollection (54). This is a store where you can spend at least an hour just browsing, they have a really nice mix of things – from cooking essentials to candles. There are a lot of concept stores, but each store tries to have its own character. I discovered another one called Nordic Nest, (Justitiestraat 79), run by two interior designers or architects. They focus on Scandinavian design. I just bought a lovely cardigan for my daughter there. There seems to be a lot of independent stores in Antwerp…
Martijn: And they all look great. This is something about Antwerp; people have a really good eye for detail. When we work together with someone, whether it’s designers or scenographers, they’re independent and they have their own vision and identity –that is how they work and they want to remain small. Another place we haven’t spoken about is a Japanese tea-shop that is really modern, Azumaya (Leopoldplaats 12). They have two shops, Azumaya and Ko’uzi. At the front is the tea shop (Azumaya) and in the back is the sushi place (Ko’uzi). The sushi is not your average sushi, though. Yuko, who runs the place, has won a prize in Japan for innovative sushi because it’s really something special. It’s really good sushi. When we have an opening, they cater for us. Then you have Azumaya – they have the most amazing selection of Japanse tea. They have a huge selection to choose from, offering new teas every month. They change so much, we just can’t keep up. They have this concept called club 88 – a very special number in Japan, marking the first day of the tea harvest – through which you get a different kind of tea every month. We get so much tea – it just keeps piling up.
Annemarie: Our children are six and seven, so one place that is really cool when you want to have a relaxed dinner without being disturbed by the kids is called Sensunik (Molenstraat 69). It’s a great concept – they have this large play area where the children can play and climb and they can also eat there. You can chose whether the children eat with you at the table, or upstairs where there is someone to watch over them. The place even has camera-supervision, so you can also keep an eye. They offer a children’s menu, and the kids really like it. The quality of the food is good, but the only thing is that they don’t change their menu that often. Another great place for children is Linkeroever, on the other side of the river. There are a couple of playgrounds with the most amazing view of Antwerp. To get there you can go through a very beautiful pedestrian tunnel. People always say Linkeroever is the boring part of Antwerp, but I think it’s undervalued. In the summer, large restaurants with big gardens open up and they create a beach-like atmosphere. It’s just unbelievable – there are so many initiatives from the city itself that sometimes it feels like one big amusement park, but they are so focused on it, not just on entertaining people, but making sure that Antwerp is an interesting city to visit. For an ideal day off, out in the city? I’d sleep in, go have coffee and a nice pastry and visit a museum like MAS (Hanzestedenplaats 1), MHKA (Leuvenstraat 32), or the Fotomuseum (Waalsekaai 47). For the children we’d try to find a playground, have a proper lunch, which could also be dinner, and just stroll around and look at all the very attractive shops with things you can buy for someone else, or hop into a bookshop and browse around. We’d go to a bookshop which we have not mentioned, called Tse Tse (Kronenburgstraat 10). It’s on the way to MHKA and the Fotomuseum. It sells mainly comic strips, not only for grownups, but also for children, and it’s very nice for them, especially when they are at the age when they start reading books. My older one loves comics like Tin Tin. Then I’d end the day with watching a movie.