I’m at a secret, obscure location, a dingy parking lot in the outskirts of central Shanghai. Before I could question anything, the metal doors before me swing open, as the cold air of winter night sweeps across the dark space, and seconds later, I’m being transported down into the unknown in an industrial elevator. Here, the suspense thickens. A small door creaks open, before the grand entrance to Ultraviolet comes into sight, revealing a controlled 10-seater environment where light, scent, sound, and temperature are masterfully manipulated.
Founded in 2012, Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet has kept its reputation as the world’s most avant-garde restaurant. Recently ranked number six in the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019 list, Ultraviolet conjures up an alternate reality that isn’t just about the theatrics. Everything that surrounds the Ultraviolet universe and its immersive 20-course dining experience tells a story, and is curated to a T, from the music in the background to the visual effects on the screens. Highly advanced technology is utilised to create the most relevant ambience for dishes that are both figurative and humorous. This is a psychological experiment that alters perception and keeps diners on their toes.
Ultraviolet creator and head chef Greg Robinson greets me for the night. Due to the limited seats and Ultraviolet’s obnoxiously long waiting list, I am offered to be whisked away into its kitchen wonderland instead. There, I witness the crew of 30 put together magic on plates, and watch the reactions of the diners through strategically located surveillance cameras.
But first up, before the crowd arrives, a taster of possible scenarios. It’s hard to disguise my excitement. I take a seat in the chair that has my name illuminated, where I am showed the UV A+ menu, to be paired with stunning prestige wines such as the 1992 Château Musar vintage by Gaston Hochar from Bekaa Valley. “Hells Bells” by AC/DC comes blasting through the speakers, and it seems like we’re about to enter a Gothic church. “Ultraviolet has the capacity to serve each dish at its peak, by controlling the cooking temperature and time, and how it’s presented. The atmosphere amplifies the imagination of the diners and influences their memory of the experience,” Robinson says.
A pellet of apple wasabi ostie complements the scene, and sets a strong statement for the experience that is about to unfold. The adventure into Ultraviolet’s post-modern world of weird and wonderful continues with Micro Fish No Chips, a bite-size caper and anchovy dish paired with the earthy scent of rain and soil. The extremely catchy “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” by The Beatles comes on and we raise a glass of 5AM Saint red ale by BrewDog, to fond memories of London. Minutes later, out comes Pairet’s best-known dish, a truffle burnt soup bread. Inspired by his younger days of dipping bread in meunière sauce for a quick bite, Pairet has served variations of the Meunière Truffle Bread since the inception of Mr & Mrs Bund. His experimentation with this dish has led to this recipe: soak the bread in the sauce, together with the secret ingredient, for 20 to 25 minutes. This exact time frame can only be achieved here at Ultraviolet, where things run like clockwork, and every minute element is cooked with absolute precision.
After an intermission where mingling happens around a 300-year-old camphor tree, the dining room is transformed into a modern fine dining restaurant, complete with white tablecloths, candle lights, jazz music, and glittering crystal glasses. In the kitchen, things are in autopilot mode. We start with the classics of sea bass Monte Carlo, baked inside a crusty baguette like a beef Wellington; truffle lamb; and the juiciest wagyu served on a bed of the most divine mash potatoes; before the showstopper, Tomato Pomodamore with strawberry gazpacho. A playful Willy Wonka treat fuming with umaminess from basil and kaffir lime, the cherry tomato is plated on a magnifying glass atop a shot glass.
The interplay and contrast of flavours and textures continue to the grand finale, where the man of the hour himself, Paul Pairet, makes an appearance by preparing the Suzette carrot cake. The making of this delight is projected live on screen in the dining room, as Pairet gets whisking on the orange, ginger, and carrot sauce before adding a dash of Grand Marnier. “A dish is ready when there is nothing left to add or take away,” he says, flashing a cheeky smile. Having a conversation with a world-class chef while he’s making your dessert? I’m not sure it gets more special than this.
The last symphony, and my absolute favourite, is the Ispahan Dishwash, a deconstructed, half-eaten, soaped-up plate of litchi, rose, and raspberry, that honours Pierre Hermé. The scene of Foamy Josette, a loop of a woman cleaning plates, with the finishing touch of Edith Piaf’s passionate and sentimental vocals, serenades us into the night …
Like exiting a four-hour theatre show, the Ultraviolet experience keeps one in amazement; mine, finished with a stroll along Shanghai’s Huangpu River, veiled in sparkling lights.
Guests depart together from a meeting point to Ultraviolet, an undisclosed location in Shanghai, China. www.uvbypp.cc