The London Review of Breakfasts

"Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper." (Francis Bacon)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Special Dispatch: The Breakfast Club at In De Roscam, Antwerp, Belgium

The Breakfast Club at In De Roscam
12 Vrijdagmarkt
Antwerp , Belgium
32 48 642-5606

by Hashley Brown

The legend of the city of Antwerp, so told to me by a lady at the excellent Objectif Exhibitions where the walls were festooned with fetishised food portraits and a mechanical man ran to the sounds of 2011, says that there was a giant called Antigoon. Antigoon was mostly being a pain, blocking trade and such, so a plucky young chap called Salvus Brabo cut the giant's hand off and threw it in the river. It's no surprise that Hand-Werpen, throwing hands, became the name of the town after that little spectacle. A place synonymous with the high-end fashion industry, Antwerp has so much fashion in it, it almost puts you off. Instead of craving for a little Dries Van Noten or Ann Demeulemeester you find yourself guiltily pining for a little bit of rough, a Uniqlo or Primark perhaps.

If the art, fashion and severed-hand legends are high-end, then the breakfast options can seem lacking. Finding a place with good coffee can be tricky, so it's worth seeking out Caff√®nation for locally roasted treats. However good it is though, a flat white doesn't make a morning meal, so step into the frame  local food co-operative Otark Productions. Young, beautiful and delicious, they embody everything you want an Antwerp breakfast to be about. Run by Hadas Cna'ani and Charlotte Koopman, Otark started as a 'a travel agency for taste', importing foods and toothsome delights, and over the last four years has settled into a culinary curiosity shop, taking over cafes and bars to create flavoursome menus. 

On Sunday mornings Otark reside in the tiny cafe In De Roscam for The Breakfast Club. A miniscule space chock full of mismatched wooden furniture, the bar heavy with bulbous Belgian beer glasses, each week there's a different themed menu, beautifully conceived and designed (it's worth checking the menus online even if you can't make it there to eat). The morning we arrive, like a 1950s travel advert the breakfast is titled "An Escapist Breakfast: Grenada", but the 'purple sweet potatoe pancakes with Cinnamon and Bacon' have already run out, as have the 'shrimps with hot sauce and pickled mirliton'. Thankfully there are still endless supplies of the traditional Georgian bread baked in a monastery, and this week's variation on the sunny side up. Wooden handled multicoloured cast-iron frying pans appear loaded with even more multicoloured carrots, sliced and fried in a ginger butter, that in turn play host to a clutch of fried eggs, gently cooked, oozing their sunny yellow yolks into the technicolour spiced carrots. It's a sweet warming combination that, spooned onto the fresh baked Georgian bread as Fela Kuti chugs away gently in the background, definitely takes you on a journey away from the snowy streets outside. Coffee comes in litre cafetieres or as cappuccinos in delicate ceramic bowls to cradle. You can order unctuous tahini with date syrup to dip your warm bread into, and looking back over past menus, there always seems to be some kind of sweet dessert in case breakfast becomes more of a brunch. Service is friendly in a way that you feel like you're hanging out with new friends, rather than being preyed upon by a diner host, and so anything that doesn't work out just feels charmingly shambolic.

In a town so convincingly stylish, Otark's The Breakfast Club makes for a reassuringly grounded morning. Overwhelmingly hand-crafted, it is full of love for good food, and good breakfast. Just make sure you get up earlier so as not to miss any of the culinary exploring next week.


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