Antwerp baker goes back to basics in new artisanal shop

Summary

Every week, Flanders Today surveys the world of local cuisine to fill you in on the best recipes, culinary events and special eateries. This week: a what-you-see-is-what-you-get bakery

On Flemish food and drink

Aldo Neri’s dream of creating an artisanal shop in a bustling residential area that would allow him to bake his famous bread side-by-side with the customer has finally come true. Neri, who until recently was the baker for Michelin-star Antwerp restaurant Dôme, has opened Bakker Aldo just on the edge of the vibrant and popular Zurenborg neighbourhood in Antwerp.

Bakker Aldo is special for a couple of reasons: It breaks down the barriers between baker and customer and, more importantly, between product and consumer. He makes and bakes the bread in the same space as the shop, so customers can see the entire process.

“It’s not just a question of cosy, being able to interact with your customers,” he says. “It also enables everyone to follow my work and see how their bread is created.”

Neri, who is of Italian extraction, begins baking in the middle of the night and continues until noon so that late morning visitors to the shop can also sneak a peek. “I think it’s important that people are aware of where their food comes from,” he says. “Every bread is kneaded and rolled by hand, which makes the procedure quite intensive and intricate. But I’m convinced that they will taste the difference.”

He uses a sourdough starter or leaven and, to enhance their flavour, he leaves the loaves to rise naturally between 12 and 48 hours, depending on the variety.

The shop has a clean and minimalist look that focuses attention on the bread displayed on racks behind the wooden counter filled with baguettes and vintage scales. The classic yet contemporary interior includes an old Artoflex dough kneader, as well as a large oak table where Neri works before he pops his loaves in the impressive deck oven in the middle of the room.

Available in eight varieties, the bread all has Neri’s trademark thick crust. His baguettes are crisp, and his traditional boterpistolets (butter buns) melt in your mouth. Bakker Aldo currently does not sell cakes or pastries, but Neri plans to add croissants to the offer soon.

Neri likes to keep things simple in bread baking: water, flour and salt. “These days, people are using a lot of additives in bread and complicating the process,” he says. “You actually just need three basic ingredients, but you still end up with countless possibilities. In the end, it’s my aim to create something pure and healthy.”

Photo courtesy Bakker Aldo