ANTWERP - Local legends are there to be cherished, whether they are strictly true or not. So, did an Antwerp Cathedral priest really patrol the neighbourhood in a red hat? Or does Grand Café De Rooden Hoed actually owe its name to the striking red roof tiles...?
It is certainly true that the painter Quinten Matsijs (1466-1530) lived in the building; the ironwork above the well in front of the cathedral was wrought by him.
And we also know that as far back as 1750 the oldest hostelry in Antwerp was used as a coaching inn.
Today you can still order a soep van de koetsier (a coach driver’s soup), a reminder of the days when carriages stopped off at the inn, the drivers almost becoming part of the family.
If you are a born Antwerpenaar, the name of this establishment will bring visions of mussels and fries served on a red-and-white checked tablecloth to your mind.
But times have changed. This brasserie has been owned since May 2013 by Hans Lachi and Cas Goossens, who quickly put their own stamp on the business. Hans manages the kitchen and is responsible for the commercial side, whereas Cas keeps an eye on the guests, showing his public what good service really means.
Whether it’s pouring out two bottles of beer at the same time or whisking up a sabayon with Liefmans Fruitesse at the table, it’s all in a day’s work for this dyed-in-the-wool waiter.
There’s plenty of room. The indoor area seats 130 customers, the terrace adds a further 30 seats, and that’s before you consider the historic vaulted basement, where large groups are regularly hosted and parties go off with a bang.
The atmosphere is different wherever you go in the building. If you are seated at the back you enjoy a view of the picturesque Handschoenmarkt and the splendid cathedral entrance.
At the front, you overlook the bustling car-free Oude Koornmarkt, where you will never be short of a place to eat or drink. You’ll also find an oyster bar and an upstairs room in De Rooden Hoed.
Beerstronomy® in Practice
“We serve a typical brasserie menu,” Hans tells us. “This is where to come for fish, lobster, shellfish, various mussel dishes, for Antwerp classics like filet d’Anvers (smoked beef), a sorbet with Elixir d’Anvers liqueur or typically-Flemish stews made with rabbit or eel in a green sauce – paling in ’t groen.
We also like to expand our culinary horizons with more exotic dishes. However, we do want you to recognise the product on your plate, so if you are after a smear of this and a foam of that, this is not the place for you.”
The locals have certainly re-discovered the way to De Rooden Hoed. “We offer a good balance between price and quality and that works very well,” says Cas.
“This is not a tourist trap of the kind you so often find in city centres.”
Beer features prominently on the menu, and you are always welcome to enjoy a glass. Both wine and beer complement and are served with De Roeden Hoed’s excellent food, always with the appropriate advice on pairing.
Cas is a qualified beer sommelier and is now responsible for training the restaurant staff. The splendid beer menu is now an attraction in itself and an increasing number of guests from Belgium and abroad are seduced into trying beer pairings with their meals.
Treading the boards
In addition to the regular menu you will find lunch menus, monthly menus, lobster menus, themed menus and plenty of tempting suggestions aimed at both individuals and groups. Customer suggestions and questions are always welcomed, and the best beer to have with your meal will always be recommended.
“We’re noticing that interest in Belgian degustation beers is increasing,” Cas says. “A beer that is perfectly poured and properly explained is an appealing proposition.”
The kitchen never closes during opening hours. Lunchtime diners and drinkers include business people, locals and day trippers.
The same business people return at weekends for quiet dinners with friends or family. The restaurant receives lots of group bookings, and if you want to eat here during the weekend it’s a good idea to book a table.
The impressive décor itself attracts many customers. There’s nothing better than sitting by the glass wall in the back, enjoying an opulent dish of shellfish, observing Cas prepare his sabayon with great aplomb…
This is no surrealist tableau, I saw it all myself - De Rooden Hoed is one big spectacle. And now you know who is behind the scenes at this spectacular restaurant you must go and meet them, they are ready to show you their latest and greatest creations.