Serving only 10 diners at a time, Ultraviolet
offers high-concept Western cuisine in a high-tech private dining room.
It's the brainchild of chef Paul Pairet, winner of the "Chef's Choice Award" at the 2016 Asia's 50 Best Restaurants Awards
Diners are brought to the restaurant on a bus and the Ultraviolet experience begins on the ride. We won't spoil the surprise, but it's clear that Pairet has taken into account every opportunity to influence his guests.
The dining room itself is fitted with video-screen walls, surround sound speakers, bespoke lighting and scent emitters.
Price of admission? Nearly $1,000.
It's tempting to dismiss it all as smell-o-vision theater for foodies who want to brag about their dining conquests on Instagram.
But... it's not.
Foie gras cigarette
After sampling a few courses with its creator for a recent taping of CNN's "On China," I found myself savoring a foie gras cigarette served on an ashtray, deciphering the otherworldly scent of incense and rain and laughing at a reference to Super Mario Bros.
Each menu is painstakingly sketched out and rehearsed by Pairet and his team of chefs, servers and producers who activate sounds, scents, lights and videos from a nearby control room.
The meal is engineered like a live television program, with dishes served and aromas emitted on cue throughout an epic menu designed to engage all five senses.
"We will send 22 courses, and each will be surrounded by an atmosphere defined through the projection, the smell (eventually, but not always), and the sound," says Pairet.
The room transforms itself throughout the dinner, taking me from a space covered in vivid neon graffiti to a subterranean chamber and eventually to a white hall draped in a massive Union Jack with the Beatles blaring in the background.
"A lot of the dishes are based on memories," Pairet tells me over his interpretation of fish and chips.
"It's a caricature interpretation of the most caricature dish inside a caricature of the environment."
My mini crash course in Ultraviolet ends with the ultimate guilty pleasure -- dessert comprised of homemade gummy bears, and a race with the staff around the dining room set to a classic Nintendo theme.
"At the end of dinner, you need that kind of twist, that thing that really gets you and your palette at the same time. It's an important dish for me -- a celebration of some things that other restaurants do not accept."
Born and trained in France, Pairet came to Shanghai in 2005 to eventually launch Ultraviolet in 2012.
"I chose Shanghai because there was already the ingredients. Obviously, the power of Shanghai, the energy of Shanghai... to free up Western cuisine based on curiosity," says Pairet.
"All these ingredients are very important, especially for the avant-garde."
A foie gras cigarette is indeed avant-garde, but more importantly it was delicious.
It was a revelation for all senses, and an immersive dining adventure I won't soon forget.