Michelin-starred chef cooks $100 dinner

Get ready for a dose of fine-dining meets rock 'n' roll from chef Nick Bril of the hip one-Michelin-starred Belgian restaurant, The Jane.

The 31-year-old Holland-born Belgian chef is in town for Citibank's 12-month-long dining series $100Gourmet, which features international chefs collaborating with two host restaurants in Singapore each month.

The chefs present six-course menus that cost $100++ for Citibank credit-card members. Other diners pay $180++ a person. Beverages are charged separately.

From today to Saturday, Bril will work with French executive chef Jeremy Gillon of Me@OUE. The menu includes Bril's oyster and seabass with cucumber, kumquat and cocktail-based Chinese Mule sorbet; as well as Gillon's smoked mackerel with wood ash meringue and hyssop syrup.

From July 27 to 30, he will partner chef Takuma Seki from Japanese restaurant Ikyu. Bril's dishes include a quinoa salad with glazed pork belly, carrot and yuba, while Seki will feature a mini kaisen don with blue fin tuna tartare, uni and salmon roe.

Their collaborative dish will be lamb shio koji, a charcoal-grilled rack of lamb with a Japanese-style ratatouille and mizuna.

Tickets are sold out for the Me@OUE dinner.

Such partnerships are right up Bril's alley, he tells Life: "I'm the type of chef who can adjust and adapt. Some chefs rely solely on their signatures, but I see what's available and do something with it.

"At Ikyu, they don't have chicken or veal stock, which is always in my kitchen. I had to think carefully about how to write the recipe for them. I like such challenges."

He is no stranger to Asian flavours as his cooking style in Antwerp is influenced by his travels in Asia. His dishes include som tam (Thai papaya salad) and a cold soup version of Klang-style bak kut teh.

He says that after his second trip here this time, a Singapore-inspired dish will be on the menu when he returns home.

The Jane, a 60-seat restaurant which opened 1½ years ago, sees 64,000 diners a year. There is also an Upper Room Bar which serves cocktails and features different deejays each month.

It is co-owned by chef Sergio Herman, who ran the highly successful three-Michelin-starred Oud Sluis in the Netherlands, which closed in 2013. Bril worked at Oud Sluis for 10 years before the duo started The Jane together.

Initially called La Chapelle as it is located in a stunning chapel, they later changed the name to The Jane.

Bril says: "Jane doesn't exist. It's a translation of what the restaurant felt to us, feminine but quite rough rock 'n' roll, tough and exciting. It's on the edge.

"Then we started looking for a second name. Sergio was at The Standard hotel in New York and he realised that just by adding 'the', made the name so nice."

At The Jane, a lunch set starts at 65 euros (S$97), while a full degustation dinner with wine costs about 170 euros.

Meals at high-end restaurants can cost at least $500, but he emphasises that diners want "price quality". Giving the example of how some restaurants are doing "crazy things" such as serving insects, he says: "You make an impression, but you have to find a balance between serving good food and being exciting.

"There are top restaurants that can do that, but a lot of restaurants at sub-level are trying to do it too. They should focus on flavour and getting tables occupied rather than trying to be unique."

The chef, who does deejay gigs on the side, says music is a key element for the atmosphere of the restaurant. "Restaurants in Spain don't play music to focus on the food. I don't think food is interesting enough to take away an experience on its own. It's about good service, great food and drinks, and an atmosphere where you say f*** s***, next month, I want to come back."

Although he started out at the age of 14 as a dishwasher to pay for a motorcycle he had destroyed in an accident, he was drawn to the kitchen to help with deep-frying food.

He fell in love with fine dining when he enrolled at a hotel and catering school in Bruges, Belgium.

"The best part of fine dining is when you bring the perfect experience. You see someone going to the bathroom and dropping his napkin on the floor. When the guest comes back and sees the folded napkin, he knows he is being taken care of.

"There are always things that can be improved. That gives me drive in what I do," says Bril, whose Dutch girlfriend Francheska, 32, a former hairdresser, now works with him in the back office. The couple have a 19-month-old daughter, Vika.

He does not rule out working outside Belgium one day although he appreciates its dining scene, where diners are loyal to their favourite restaurants. "That's partly why we wanted to open in Belgium. In Holland, the culture is largely based on food hype. It's nice to have hype but you have to get over it."

He had a glimpse into the restaurant scene in Singapore when he caught up with chef Andrew Walsh of two-week-old restaurant Cure in Keong Saik Road.

Hearing from Walsh that many eateries here close after just six months, he says: "It's a pity when you have not reached your maximum performance and have to close. Give chefs about a year to showcase what they are capable of and chances are, you'll have a better meal then than after three weeks of its opening."


Where: Me@OUE, 50 Collyer Quay, and Ikyu, 5 Yong Siak Street
When: Today and Friday lunch (Me@OUE); July 27 to 30 (Ikyu)
Admission: $100++ (Citibank credit-card members), $180++ for others, separate charge for beverages
Info: www.100gourmet.sg

This article was first published on July 23, 2015.
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