Paul Pairet wants you to come over to his place and play. But he won’t tell you where it is, nor what he’s going to feed you. You just have to trust him. One thing is guaranteed: you are in for one hell of an adventure.
The French-born chef opened Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet in Shanghai just six months ago, backed by VOL Group, with whom he already operates the wildly successful Mr & Mrs Bund haute bistro in the same Chinese city. Indeed, the 10 diners per night who have signed up to the cult-ish Ultraviolet experience congregate at Mr & Mrs Bund before embarking on their literal, metaphorical and gastronomic journey – starting in a pimped up minibus.
Guests are deposited in a mystery location, in a back alley outside a scruffy door. It opens to reveal a bare room, and eventually the dining area itself – less a restaurant, more a large pod-like capsule. Each diner’s name is projected onto their spot-lit place at the single communal table before charismatic host-director Fabien Verdier introduces the 20-course menu.
Crucially, each course is coupled with an aural offering (frequently music, but sometimes sounds such as rain on a roof); a full visual onslaught with films and effects projected onto all four surrounding walls; bespoke lighting directed onto the dishes themselves; and olfactory accompaniments piped into the room out where appropriate.
Despite all of that, Pairet insists that the food itself takes centre stage in the performance and that the hi-tech, multi-sensory stimulants are there to support and enhance his dishes. Random menu highlights include frozen apple wasabi, truffle-engloved lamb, Balinese cucumber lollipops and Gummi bears with cola rocks.
The dishes’ conception is frequently playful and witty, their presentation theatrical in the extreme. For example, a dish called Foie Gras – Can’t Quit comprises a goose liver pate in cigarette form, presented on an ashtray with cabbage ‘ash’. Encapsulated Bouillabaisse is a single explosive mouthful of intense Mediterranean flavour consumed to the tune of the Marseillaise, while a cuttlefish dish is carved solemnly at the table with the room seemingly submerged beneath the tropical ocean.
It’s outlandish and occasionally challenging stuff, but Pairet and team succeed in retaining a sense of lightness and fun – similar in that sense to Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck. Certainly, Ultraviolet’s diners find it difficult not to smile and laugh throughout much of the globe-trotting four-hour extravaganza.
Pairet has been working on the idea for some 15 years, and the investment in the purpose-built space complete with state-of-the-art technology is huge. But it takes the idea of the multi-sensory consumption of food – blurring taste with emotion – to an unprecedented and inspirational level.
Diners can book as a group or even singly, subject to availability, and dinner costs RMB2000, which includes paired drinks throughout. It’s far from easy to bag a spot at the table (nor cheap), but then this might just be the most avant-garde restaurant experience in the world.