Silo’s: a rustic restaurant with a malting plant history in Boortmeerbeek
Are you looking for a rustic restaurant in Anwerp? Then we have got you covered: Restaurant Silo’s, situated in Boortmeerbeek, is reopening its doors after the Belgian government loosened the covid restrictions a few weeks ago. The restaurant was originally a Walloon malting plant full of barley silos, named Malterie de Boortmeerbeek. Approximately eleven years ago, the architectural firm Architeam decided to completely renovate the vacant malting plant and built a restaurant with a five-story business centre, called De Malt. Malterie de Boormeerbeek Annexes is part of the series Reporting the city, in which 21bis-reporters investigate interesting redevelopment projects. Under the watchful eye of their guide Danny De Landstheer, the manager of the restaurant Silo’s, aspiring journalists Jellen, Christa and Kylie paid a visit to the former malting plant in Boortmeerbeek on a cold and overcast Tuesday morning.
We arrive early at Malterie De Boortmeerbeek Annexes. We get out of our cars, but no guide to be found. According to Kylie, he will be ten minutes late. The sky is overcast with grey clouds, not a single trace of sunlight to be found. Kylie and Christa wrapped in their jackets visibly shiver due to the chilly temperature. Hopefully, the weather won’t be symbolic for our guided tour. Wondering if Danny will show up, we marvel at the size of the place. So much space. Our thoughts are interrupted when Danny makes his way through the front entrance of his restaurant and greets us with a smile. With a calm voice our guide tells us that Silo’s is situated in a former barley malting plant, built by Wallonian brewer Charles Thirionet. Under the leadership of Hubert Thirionet, Charles’ son, the malting plant expanded to one of Europe’s biggest and most modern malting plants of its time. The workers were able to manufacture 75.000 tons of barley per year, which was then sold to countries all over the world.
Upon entering the restaurant, a slightly earthy, clean scent greets us. The whole place is decorated with reminders of the malting plant: silos placed on the ceiling of the restaurant covered with an intricate design of burlap, slats made of wood and reinforced steel cover the back windows, old, open-ended light bulbs dangling from the ceiling and circular and rectangular tables procured out of sturdy wood. You get the feeling of being overwhelmed in your stomach, but in a comfortable, awe-inspiring way, you really do not know where to look first. The voice of our guide interrupts our musings. He mentions that the main goal of the restaurant was to have good acoustics. The silos held together by cadres and burlap together with rockwool isolating the ceiling create the excellent acoustics inside the restaurant. Originally, the malting plant had a brewery counterpart located in the centre of Boortmeerbeek, that has been completely broken down and replaced with apartment complexes and new buildings. Barley was transported via the channel Mechelen-Leuven and put into the silos of the former malting plant. The barley was then sorted by age and quality and preserved, before being transported to the brewery in the city.
We move along to the centre dining room of the restaurant with a big table that can seat 26 people. Copper cooking utensils dangle down from iron bars melded to the low-hanging ceiling. All the chairs and tables are made of the same sturdy wood you can find throughout the whole restaurant. Circular lightbulbs are dispersed through the cooking utensils and create a very cosy lighting atmosphere. Initially, barley was pumped through the silos from the first level. Shafts were placed close to the silos through which the barley could be staved off to prepare shipment to the brewery. Twelve years ago, the malting plant was moved to the harbour of Antwerp and after two years of disuse, Architeam, an architectural firm bought up the place and started redeveloping the malting plant.
Architeam to the rescue
But this huge building not only houses Danny’s restaurant, but also De Malt, a five-story business centre. Approximately 250 people work in the business offices, but due to covid-19 a lot of people momentarily work from home. In building the business centre a lot of concrete was cut away and sharpened. The second floor is dominated by a big foyer to house guests of internal and external companies. The foyer can be hired to host lectures, presentations and meetings, among other things. On the fourth floor you can find the reception with offices in adjacent corridors. Interesting detail: one office is the size of a silo and in the corners inside the offices you can still find the safety ladders of the original silos. During our inspection we encounter Michel Govaert, head of Architeam, who was responsible for the renovation of the malting plant. He mentions that it took close to six years to completely renovate the original plant. Nine years ago, the firm started the renovations by removing all asbestos. They placed new stockrooms, new flooring on all levels and removed all traces of the old plant. After installing all the offices and finishing the renovation, the architectural firm started to hire out the offices. Interestingly, seven years ago, two seasons of Masterchef were filmed in the business centre.
We politely thank Michel for his time and follow our guide to the roof of the building. We are instantly blown away, because in front of us we find a spacious cafeteria with a pool table, a jukebox, a small kitchen, firms in the background and enough tables and chairs to seat 100 people. Out of the corner of our eyes we also notice the very wide roof patio, where you can even host parties and events. Dumbfounded, we follow Danny onto the patio and admire the view over the channel Mechelen-Leuven, the DPD side building to the left and the big parking space in front of us. We conclude our remarkable guided tour by walking through the kitchens of the restaurant and sharing a little drink with Danny. We go outside, wave Danny goodbye and share smiles. What an unexpected delight we had come across, let us get to work on our project!
Text: Jellen Monsieur, Christa Buki and Kylie Vanderhulst, photos: © Danny De Landtsheer and © Kylie Vanderhulst