Everything but the food –
a different kind of
restaurant review

von Nina Mohimi

Photo: Nina Mohimi

What a visit to „The Jane“ in Antwerp feels like

Is it possible to convey the experience of a restaurant visit without mentioning the food? This is an attempt based on a visit to „The Jane“ in Antwerp.

In restaurant reviews, especially in the field of fine dining, the focus is usually on one central aspect: the food. That is understandable, as these culinary creations are often seen as the heart of any restaurant. The attention to detail with which dishes are conceived and presented, the selection and quality of ingredients, the creativity and innovation in preparation – these are all crucial factors that (can) elevate a culinary experience from good to exceptional.
However, while food is undoubtedly an integral part of any food review, it does not represent the full spectrum of what a restaurant visit has to offer. A comprehensive dining experience is influenced by many other elements: from the atmosphere and ambience of the place, to the quality of the service, to the background music and the overall composition of the room. Together, these aspects create an overall sensory picture which – in the best case – frames and completes the culinary experience. But can a restaurant description completely do without mentioning food and still paint a clear picture of the experience?
It’s a challenge to write about the recently visited „The Jane“ in Antwerp without mentioning the food, because there’s a lot (of good things) to say about it, but many others have already done so. As number 39 on the 50 Best List and awarded two Michelin stars, it takes little time to find articles describing the cuisine of chef Nick Brill and his team in detail.
The Jane is located in a former military chapel, which immediately creates a stunning and unique atmosphere. The first impression upon entering was one of awe, as the interior strikes a perfect balance between sacred architecture and casual design – a rather rare combination. You can pretty much always tell who is visiting The Jane for the first time by this „mouth stays open“ effect.
The very high ceilings and personalized stained glass windows offer a play of light and shadow that creates a dramatic yet inviting environment both during the day and in the evening. It is easy to lose yourself in discovering the many individual motifs that have been built into the windows.

Photo: Nina Mohimi

The acoustics are also surprisingly pleasant with light background music that is not intrusive but invites you to daydream. The attention to detail is quite impressive. From the artfully designed lighting that bathes the interior in a warm, inviting glow, to the carefully selected artwork that adorns the walls, every element seems carefully considered and contributes to the overall atmosphere. Together, these elements create an ambience that is both luxurious and comfortable. The seating furniture, especially the seating corners, are so cozy that you lose all sense of time in them. Even if they have a completely different look, they convey the childhood feeling of sitting on grandma’s corner benches at the kitchen table – cared for and relaxed. Perhaps that was even the intention, because comfort is a high priority, as Nick Brill explains when he pays us a visit at the table. He wanted to create a place where you can relax and where the pace of the visit is not dictated by the kitchen. He actually talks more about the importance of comfort than about food – a very pleasant change.
Our waiter then explains to us just how much everyone at The Jane will adapt to our individual well-being and tempo: „You are welcome to get up at any time and go for a walk or take your drink out into the fresh air.“ Relaxed, but professional. When you get up, the kitchen is discreetly informed so that you don’t come back to cold plates. No one seems stressed, on the contrary, people are always chatting and telling us a story or two about the house. It is quite remarkable how the mixture of professionalism and friendliness is balanced. The team not only seems to be well trained, but also very interested in making every visit unforgettable.
All the non-alcoholic drinks are home made with the exception of the aperitif and the „virgin sommelier“, Bram Klinge, provides a superb accompaniment to every course. It was difficult to tell who was more excited about the presentation of each drink creation, the guest or the sommelier. It’s nice to see this infectious passion. Incidentally, sommelier Noris Conrad, who was responsible for the wine accompaniment, never gave the impression that the table was any less interesting to him as a result – a fact that is unfortunately still all too common in the best fine dining restaurants in Austria. All the more reason to appreciate the fact that professionalism takes precedence over personal interests. This can also be seen very clearly from the wine list, which is not a wine list, but a really extensive book with unusual, but entirely comprehensible category descriptions („The Ultimate Hipster Section“).

Photo: Nina Mohimi

In other respects too, it felt very inclusive at The Jane – at no point was it apparent who was a local regular or a tourist.
The mix of guests was relaxing because it was pleasantly diverse – there were the typical businessmen, the not-the-first-date couples, a few single people who were noticeably happy in peace at their table, but also young guests who might have been students. A large family was placed directly in front of the open kitchen behind the glass – possibly so that their volume didn’t spread throughout the restaurant. Nothing seems coincidental at The Jane, but at the expense of a relaxed atmosphere.
This also explains why we stayed there from 12:30 to 05:30 and never once looked at the clock. Time loses meaning when you are allowed to indulge your hedonistic needs and are looked after so attentively and carefully. And that’s when you realize again how beautifully designed the details at The Jane are, because you don’t even notice the darkness outside, as the lighting inside suggests daylight.
Incidentally, we weren’t the only table that stayed that long. Timeslots don’t play a role here (at lunchtime at least). Neither does the fact that the team has meanwhile already prepared for the evening service. Careful enough not to draw attention to it, confident enough not to hide it. Comfort is determined by so many fine details.
In conclusion, The Jane is not just a place for exceptional culinary experiences, but an overall experience that captivates with its unique ambience, meticulous attention to detail, excellent service and an atmosphere that is both dignified and welcoming. A visit is highly recommended on all levels.