Author’s Note: Masters of Taste is a culinary festival in Antwerp during October and in 2017, 97 catering businesses participated in this event. I had set out to visit all participating restaurants and food businesses and created my own blog around it. Over there, I’ve explained Master(s) of Taste countless times, so I did not mention it once more in the body of this text.
A chef’s training determines everything. Brasserie Appelmans seems to realize this and has built its menu around its chef. The chef of this Master of Taste has been classically trained, but has also acquired experience in modern cuisine. This review will determine whether this restaurant’s take on modern and traditional cuisine has passed the test.
Brasserie Appelmans is nestled in the Papenstraatje, at spitting distance of the Cathedral of Our Lady. This Master of Taste claims to have chosen this location to take advantage of the influx of Antwerp natives and tourists from the Groenplaats without being a tourist trap. Similarly to Brasserie HOBS, Brasserie Appelmans seems to want to breathe new life into the catering businesses around the Groenplaats, which most Antwerp natives shy away from.
Aside from a restaurant, this Master of Taste also houses two cocktail bars, a fairly unique concept. The Absinth bar is Brasserie Appelmans’ showpiece and presents itself as a cosmopolitan bar such as can be found in New York. The second bar, the private bar, is on a floor on top of the kitchen with a view of the restaurant and has a little more traditional interior design. Fun fact: the private bar was designed by an architect I’m acquainted with.
Once arrived in the restaurant itself, there are black couches against the wall on one end and a row of mirrors on the wall on the other end. An enlarged picture of the cathedral’s clockwork covers the wall underneath the private bar and upbeat jazz is playing in the background.
I sat down on one of the dark brown tables with wooden chairs padded with a leather cushion. Through the windows and doors, which were all open because of the hot weather, I could look out over the terrace and the Papenstraatje.
In the menu’s introduction, it can be read that Brasserie Appelmans’ chef has first received a classical training, thus acquainting himself with French cuisine. Afterwards, he headed for restaurants in cities such as Dubai to make himself familiar with modern cuisine. With this culinary baggage, he applied for a job at this Master of Taste.
Naturally, the menu was drafted with the chef’s experience at the outset, causing the menu to be divided into “Belgian classics” and “Cosmopolitan influences from the port”. Under the former, one finds beef stew or an Appelmans Deluxe Burger, but I thought that was too ordinary, although the table next to me did order the burger and it looked really yummy and smelled even better. Soit. I wanted something more exotic and under cosmopolitan influences, I chose the Malaysian chicken.
The Malaysian chicken was almost overcooked, but still tender enough. Moreover, it had been marinated in eastern style with ginger, turmeric, and coconut, but I tasted very little of this because the dish as a whole tasted rather bland. Luckily, the spicy confit tomatoes and delicious chai herbal sauce brought this meal to life, but there were only a few drops of the latter on the plate.
The chai herbal sauce was complemented by gravy in which I detected a beer flavor. The slices of corn cake brought a fun change in texture because they had a crust, but were still soft on the inside. The grilled green asparagus were soft and bitter and matched well with the chicken and confit tomatoes.
On the menu, I had seen matchstick potatoes as a side dish and that name fascinated me so much that I ordered them with the Malaysian chicken. My mind must have been in some far off world, because I thought these matchstick potatoes would be spicy fries (so hot they’re on fire), but that turned out differently. They were actually just matchstick-shaped fries. Such a disillusion!
For the dessert, I went back to the cosmopolitan side of the menu and chose the baklava. Baklava is a traditional Middle-Eastern dessert that knows about as many variations as there are stars in the sky. A run-of-the-mill baklava consists of layers of filo pastry filled with nuts, and a wide variety of flavorings, such as rose water, can be added to it. After baking, the dessert is drenched in honey or sugar.
Seeing as “cosmopolitan influences” meant this dessert would be prepared in a modern way, it shouldn’t have surprised me that the baklava didn’t meet the above-mentioned description. I’m guessing the chef had envisioned a deconstructed baklava.
Instead of filo pastry, a bird’s nest of kataifi was used, which is a dough that resembles vermicelli. The nuts (pistachios here) and the honey had been made into some kind of caramel biscuits. The optional rose water had been processed in rose water raindrop cakes; those are the see-through lumps.
The kataifi was very crispy, really unbelievably hard, and you needed the smooth pistachio ice cream and the deliciously sticky pistachios with honey because otherwise, the vermicelli-like pastry was too dry. The rose water raindrop cakes were sweet, but mostly tasteless. The cottage cheese added a slightly salty element, but did nothing texture-wise, making it even mildly unpleasant. I would have liked it if the baklava had been more traditional and the chef could have omitted the cottage cheese and raindrop cakes.
Brasserie Appelmans is wielding a unique concept with its restaurant and two bars and makes a valid attempt at gentrifying the catering businesses around the Groenplaats. The menu’s two-fold nature is an interesting idea, but falls short on the cosmopolitan side. After all, the main course as a whole tasted bland and the dessert contained more problematic than successful elements. With a heavy heart, I give this Master of Taste the following rating:
- Food: 2/5
- Atmosphere and hospitality: 5/5
- Eat – repeat: I might one day try a Belgian classic here, but for now my answer is no.