Belgians are the biggest consumers of mussels. As soon as the mussel season starts, it’s impossible to find a Belgian bar or restaurant without black pots with stewed mussels and a large side of fries. Obviously, this dish had to be on the menu of one of the Masters of Taste. Grand Café De Rooden Hoed served the classic moules-frites in entirely different fashion.
During the Masters of Taste festival, Grand Café De Rooden Hoed served Rooden Hoed mussels as its suggestion. Even though mussels can be found all year round these days, I wanted to wait to try this suggestion until the mussel season started. Early July, the news reported that the first mussels of the season had been caught, which meant the first mussels would only be in stores two weeks later.
At the end of July, I decided to visit De Rooden Hoed with my friend who joined me at Butcher’s Coffee the first time. This Master of Taste is Antwerp’s oldest catering business and can be found by the Cathedral of Our Lady on the Oude Koornmarkt, a street that goes for miles and is almost exclusively lined with restaurants.
De Rooden Hoed (the red hat) has a pearly white front sporting a red hat-shaped neon sign. Right smack-dab on the terrace, there’s an electrical cabinet, but it was cleverly hidden with paint. We didn’t get to see the interior, because, when owner Cas Goossens greeted us, he gave us a table on the terrace. I had preferred to sit inside, but there wasn’t any air-conditioning while there would at least be a mild breeze outside.
However, our table was teeny tiny. This became clearer and clearer as the meal progressed and more and more cutlery and tableware was put on the table. Luckily, our table stood next to a wooden barrel that we could dump unnecessary junk on, such as a candle and a succulent. I usually eat alone, so a lack of space doesn’t bother me then, but here, it became painfully clear that the tables weren’t large enough for two plates of food and a set of glasses.
A little more on the glasses: aside from our own drinks, we had ordered a bottle of water, but we didn’t receive extra water glasses. We had to ask for them twice, a pattern that repeated itself the entire evening. Similarly, we had to ask for an extra serving of vegetables, mayonnaise with the fries, and lemon wipes several times.
If you’re not a fan of mussels, De Rooden Hoed’s incredibly extensive menu will have your back. The menu predominantly offers fish dishes, but also has countless classics that are hardly ever served in other restaurants anymore. With each dish also comes a beer suggestion.
As mentioned, I ordered the Rooden Hoed mussels. What makes this dish so special is that the mussels are prepared with the herbal sauce of paling in ‘t groen (eel in green). This is a strong green sauce, which contains up to 18 herbs at De Rooden Hoed. I certainly tasted those strong herbs, but the parsley mostly came through. Furthermore, the mussels were perfectly cooked, soft, and juicy.
The serving of mussels I got at De Rooden Hoed wasn’t as large as the one I’ve eaten at the Bourla before. That isn’t necessarily a drawback, because the serving was still large enough that I was stuffed. In that sense, De Rooden Hoed employs astute tactics, because that way, they’re less at risk for having leftover mussels and wasting precious food.
However, De Rooden Hoed should automatically have given lemon wipes with the Rooden Hoed mussels, because my fingers looked all green and dirty because of the herbal sauce. We’ve had to explicitly ask for these (several times), but when they were brought out, it turned out this restaurant offers actual lemon wipe cloths. Alongside the wipes, we received a small bowl of hot water with lemon and lime.
Lastly, we noticed that De Rooden Hoed was frequented by a certain type of gentlemen. I also had an inkling that owner Cas Goossens is flying the rainbow flag, but he’s certainly not the only one in catering. Or as we sometimes say in Antwerp, he’s part of the family.
I waited a long time for Grand Café De Rooden Hoed’s mussels, but they were perfectly prepared with original flavorings. Yet the tables on the terrace didn’t offer enough space, we didn’t automatically receive glasses with the water, mayonnaise with the fries or lemon wipes with the mussels, and when we explicitly asked for these items, we had to repeat our request every single time. Hats off to De Rooden Hoed, but I’ll eat my hat if service doesn’t improve:
- Food: 5
- Atmosphere and hospitality: 2
- Eat – repeat: I take off my hat for Grand Café De Rooden Hoed.