“Under what name did you reserve, ma’am?” Those are the exact very first words spoken to us when we walk into The Jane. No welcome. No how nice that you are there. “May I take the jackets?”
We enter the nave of the former chapel of a military hospital in the center of Antwerp. An immense designer lamp hangs from the weathered ceiling in the high space, the kitchen is a glass diorama on the spot where the altar used to stand, the windows are covered with strip Jesus as stained glass.
We are going to sit. Do we want an aperitif? We’d rather wait until dinner. Agree. Promptly the first sign is in front of us. No explanation. An amuse-bouche? Folded in our napkin is a cardboard card with the lunch menu. The bowl in front of us turns out to be the first course. Oops, we’ve already started.
Then someone comes to explain something: “The menu consists of eleven courses for 155 euros. When you made the reservation, you indicated that you have no dietary requirements.” I pretend to have forgotten to indicate that Mrs. prefers not to eat meat. Phew, well .. he needs to talk to the kitchen, the waiter sighs. He is not amused and apparently we should know that too. A little later: „Then we serve sole instead of sweetbreads. We have to charge a supplement of 15 euros for that. Because you didn’t report it…” You should have seen his head when we said we found pheasant meat too.
Then the wine arrangement. There are two choices: the essentials for 75 euros and the more exclusive inimitables for 95 euros. Try one of both, nice to taste side by side.
“The wine pairings are table by table, sir.”
“The wines come with quite a bit of explanation, and if you have two different wines, we will be at your table for so long and you will get too much information.”
I do not mind.
“Sir, this is not standard…”
Do it anyway.
„ … ” Ostensibly reluctantly, they agree.
We are talking about the two-star restaurant of Sergio Herman and his right-hand man Nick Bril. Those are not little boys. I can understand that they are a bit agitated against too many arbitrary diet preferences. Chefs at this level put an unparalleled amount of time into devising and perfecting dishes. Nothing is on the board here without reason or function. If you die of it or are pregnant, of course something can always be adjusted. But they don’t have to go with me everywhere. If you don’t like raw fish, don’t go to a sushi restaurant.
However, what they do here goes a long way.
I get that you don’t out of the blue eleven courses of vegan on the same level. But one or two substitute vegetable dishes should not be a problem. Adjusting a menu with visible reluctance is one thing (there’s a supplement for asking pushing it), but that bucket about that wine is really a travesty. You serve them by the glass anyway, what’s the effort? And then pretend you’re protecting me from myself, because otherwise it gets too complicated. Bullshit. It seems as if the staff has dug in to defend themselves against that cunning dude, who always wants to get the most out of it. The atmosphere is downright cool for the first half hour and it takes us at least three courses to shake it off. Too bad, because the food is very good at The Jane. I wish I had more words for that now.
A little bimi and some cabbage are not there for decoration, they are the brass players at the back right
Above all, the dishes at The Jane are exceptionally beautifully balanced. Like the chawanmushi, a Japanese savory custard pudding, with abalone and sea urchin and truffle soy vinaigrette. Incredibly clever to make such a beautifully subtle game with such pronounced flavors. Everything is perfectly measured, like those few shreds of basil and lime cres that make the langoustine with zucchini and lentils rise above itself.
Another example: the balancing act with the delicate pure-fishy of the dorade, the sweet-fishy of the crab, the chalky-fishy of the bisque, nicely spiced up with Taiwanese rice vinegar. The whole is conducted with a single point of black garlic, which gives depth and meaning and at the same time links everything together. A bit of bimi and some cabbage are not there for show, they are the brass players at the back right. The chardonnay from the Cote d’Auxerre gives some extra cello to the bisque, the aligoté accentuates the flute parts of the fish and crab.
Sometimes a dish is so polished that it becomes a bit playful: ‘God, with which bite can I eat that one tiny point of red onion…’ And the sweetbreads does something obligatory. But in general we are eating and drinking very well. The fact that we were able to enjoy the afternoon at our leisure is mainly due to our sommelier, who genuinely had a lot of fun with it – it’s a good thing we pushed through that double arrangement.
It is definitely worth eating at The Jane. The problem is: The Jane thinks so too. A bit too much. Eating out is not a basic necessity of life. It’s leisure. That’s why the English catering hospitality to call. Hospitality. At the end of the day, the two of us pay just under 500 euros here. Then you can be a little more forthcoming. At least. No matter how well you can cook.