Christophe Hopchet went a very long way to find inspiration for his new business – nearly 10,000 kms, in fact. It was after he travelled from his home in Belgium to Thailand that he came up with the idea of opening an Asian restaurant. The result is “Satay,” a delightful eatery in the historic part of Antwerp that successfully fuses the best of different types of Asian cuisine.
Christophe’s backstory is particularly fascinating. He has absolutely zero background in cooking (he’s never attended catering school) and studied product and industrial design at university in Antwerp. After completing his studies, he decided to see the world and travelled to Bangkok where he “became inspired” by the sight and smell of the street food for which that part of the world is famous. He befriended a man who worked as a carpenter on the Malaysian island of Penang and with an interest in that type of work, Christophe chipped in to help.
It was while in Asia that he says the “dream” of starting his own Asian restaurant was born.
Fast forward 18 months and, now back home in Belgium, Christophe decided to make that dream come true. Having found suitable premises – a former shoe shop close to the cathedral in Antwerp – he set about furnishing the place. The idea was to make the restaurant as authentic as possible so he decided to have the wooden materials he’d made back in Malaysia shipped over to Belgium – all 400 cubic metres of it. So, much of what now appears at Satay was actually constructed at his mate’s woodworking studio in Asia, including the tables and lamps. The menu is even made from the same wood as are the skewers the food is served on.
There can’t be many Asian eateries here that can claim such authenticity. The same, thankfully, applies to the delicious food Christophe cooks in his open kitchen (behind a locally-sourced counter!).
Some of his customers ask if Satay serves a particular type of Asian food, such as Vietnamese or Japanese but, in truth, it’s a bit of everything. As Christophe says, his dishes are inspired by the flavours of all Asian countries, not just one. “It means one dish might be more Malaysian, another more Vietnamese and so on,” he says.
This includes, of course, satay, an Indonesian and Malaysian dish consisting of small pieces of meat (often marinated chicken) grilled on a skewer and served with a spiced peanut sauce. At Satay, the portions are bigger than those usually served on Asian streets but just as tasty. Each satay dish is served with crispy bread or noodles and garnished with fresh salad.
There are no specialities as such but, among the mains dishes, customer favourites include BBQ slow-cooked pork belly, Teriyaki beef (a Japanese satay and very tender), citrus duck and grilled Halloumi, the veggie option comprising cheese, mango, salad and a ginger lime sauce.
You can also for the “pick and mix” option if you fancy a bit of everything. There’s also a small but very tempting choice of desert and, particularly considering the quality of it all, the prices are remarkable modest. The 3 course lunch menu, for example, is a real snip at just €15. Indeed, the pricing/quality ratio is something that Christophe has prioritised, saying, “What I love most about Asian food is that it’s very tasty but also relatively cheap that leaves you feeling satisfied at the end of a meal.
“That is exactly what I am trying to achieve here: provide tasty but affordable food that is going to make people want to come back.” Judging by the success of his restaurant, which celebrates its second anniversary soon, he’s already achieved that.
Satay is relatively small – seating about 45 people over two floors – so booking is advisable at peak times. Authenticity really is the byword here and that extends to the lovely paintings on the walls. They were done specially by an English-born painter Christophe also met on his travels around Asia.
They are typical of the street art and murals often found in Penang where Christophe lived and worked. Adding to this authenticity is the fact that he sources many of the ingredients used in the cooking from reputable Asian suppliers. While Christophe says he’s still striving for improvements news about the quality of his food has spread the old fashioned (but best) way – via word of mouth.
Christophe, amazingly still aged only 28 – recalls how he bought a one-day ticket to Bangkok when he want on this backpacking adventure.
The good news for people who appreciate good Asian food is that he came back to Belgium!
Good to know:
- Address: Wijngaardbrug 8, Antwerpen
- Contact info: 03 435 8790