A van spirits ten guests to a secret location in Shanghai, where they enter a non-descript industrial building as Strauss’s theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey” fills the air.
Inside is avant-garde restaurant Ultraviolet, the city’s newest three-star Michelin eatery, where adventurous gourmands happily pay up to 6,000 yuan ($900) per head and the waitlist for a seat is three months.
The group dines on 22 courses — each one served in an atmosphere tailored to that dish and created by video and other images projected on the walls, pumped-in aromas, and its own soundtrack.
French chef Paul Pairet, 53, says the aim is to “connect the dots” between the mind and palate by triggering “the right atmosphere, linked to the right plate,” which he believes helps to enhance the flavours of each dish.
Guests take a culinary world tour, while mood music ranges from Claude Debussy to AC/DC: Pairet’s take on fish-and-chips comes in a London rainshower to the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, while lobster is served as footage of ocean waves crashes on the walls and the scent of sea air is blown in.
“You are using all your different senses to feel this experience,” Cheryl Chen, a Shanghai consultant, dining at Ultraviolet, explains.
“It’s multi-dimensional versus others that probably have good food and a good environment, but this is one of a kind,” she adds.
Pairet, who already has two other highly regarded ‘traditional restaurants’ in Shanghai, first made his name as a chef at Cafe Mosaic in Paris in the 1990s before stints in Istanbul, Hong Kong, Sydney and Jakarta.
Ultraviolet was more than two decades in the making, he explains.
Its continued success, five years after it first opened, is testament to Shanghai’s burgeoning food scene — Michelin launched a dedicated guide for the city in 2016 — the only one in mainland China.
It also indicates the growing disposable income and culinary curiosity of Shanghai citizens.
Pairet says consumer interest actually increased after he put up Ultraviolet’s prices to cover costs.
He explains: “When we increased the price of Ultraviolet — we needed to sustain the whole project, there was no other way — after a certain level of price at 6000 RMB, we had an increase of Chinese customers.”