I'm in a tent on a beach. There's a DJ in the corner and strategically placed speakers blare out techno music. An attendant darts about adding more dry ice to bowls on pillars and everyone around me dances enthusiastically.
It sounds like a late-night scene from a party resort in Ibiza, but the sun is high in the sky and I'm actually at a dinner hosted by Michelin-starred Antwerp restaurant The Jane. This weekend, staff from the high-end eatery are putting on a multi-course meal at WECANDANCE, an electronic music beach festival in Zeebrugge, Belgium.
Yep, that's right: fine dining, sunburnt bros, and a bass line with no end in sight.
I might have missed the "outer space" dress code, but one thing I do arrive at today's dinner with is the preconception that The Jane co-owners Sergio Herman and Nick Bril are Very Serious Chefs. The restaurant's website informs me that "Food is our religion" and a quick Google search throws up some seriously impressive images of restaurant, which is housed in a former cathedral. Then there's its entry in the Michelin Guide—with two stars, no less.
"When I closed my restaurant Oud Sluis, Nick and I moved to Antwerp and I wanted to create a concept with music, art, design, fashion, and food of course."
I've managed to corner Herman (Bril is busy on the decks) to ask what the pair wanted to achieve when they opened The Jane.
"For me, it's very important to create an energetic vibe. People want something extra when they go out," Herman continues. "At The Jane, people will discover and enjoy the food but also feel the energy, feel the music, feel the design, feel the art."
He adds: "It's important to me that when you come inside The Jane, it's an experience."
We might not be in the restaurant's usual ecclesiastical surrounds, but the We Can Dance dinner can certainly still be called an "experience." Between each of the six courses, tables are left empty as people wander out of the tent to dance and smoke on the beach. I wonder at times whether anyone will bother coming back inside as the music, which gets increasingly louder with each course, is punctuated by more and more popping corks.
But like moths to a flame, people pile back in as soon the next round of dishes come out of the kitchen.
Because there's no denying that, despite the thought that The Jane puts into music and interior design, food is the priority.
"Nick and I come from Zeeland [a group of islands in the west of the Netherlands] so of course, we like to cook with seafood," says Herman. "Our cooking is eclectic. It uses spices from all over and influences from Asia and from South America. We have a classic base and we mix it up a little bit."
I'm allowed into the kitchen to see the cooking first hand (although with the strict disclaimer: "Just don't get in the way, OK?") and all is surprisingly calm. Sure, people are rushing around but hardly anyone is talking. A hushed silence, compared to the thumping bass and raucous crowd in the dining room, hangs over the production line as staff painstakingly position coriander leaves and edible flowers on plates.
What did I say? Very Serious Chefs.
Herman tells me this is the second year that The Jane has closed for the weekend to set up camp at the beach festival.
"There are about 60 people from the restaurant here. We've brought the entire team—service and chefs," he says. "We want to bring the same feel of the restaurant to the festival."
Which is also where the music comes in. The Jane is renowned for its playlists, each one specially curated for the restaurant.
"Music is just a part of the experience," says Herman. "The food is the most important thing but when you hear the music as you sit down, you relax. Although of course, in the evening, we start the beat slowly and go harder at the end."
The music also helps diners to escape, he says.
"If you've got problems at home, for example, you come inside the restaurant, forget all the bullshit around you, and just enjoy dinner," explains Herman.
As the diners/dancers at WECANDANCE clamber off the tables and sit down for the final course of the day—a deconstructed peach and basil cheesecake—Herman finally cracks a smile when I say that he must be pleased to have the evening free to enjoy the rest of the festival.
"It's nice just doing lunch service. Now it's time for us to party."
What was that they say about work hard, play hard?