Ultraviolet, ultra sensory
Updated: 2012-10-14 15:22
By Mary K Smith (China Daily)
Truffle burnt soup bread / China Daily
Ultraviolet is one of a kind; a multi-sensory experience where you not only taste and smell but are surrounded with projections and soundtracks that correspond with each of the plates that arrive at your table.
Paul Pairet's pet project limits nightly guests to just a mere 10, and having only opened in May, the restaurant continues to be booked solid months in advance.
No newbie to Shanghai, French chef Pairet began his stint in 2005 when he started at Shangri-La's Jade on 36 and in three years, brought it to international recognition. In 2009, Pairet introduced the city to Mr. And Mrs. Bund, which has arguably become the city's best for French food and one of the premiere fine-dining restaurants in Shanghai.
Now his dream - 15 years in the making - of a dining experience that orchestrates images, lighting, sounds, aromas and environments to enhance his food has been one of the most talked about openings for Shanghai's dining scene this year.
No detail is left to chance. From the first car ride to the restaurant's secret location, to the first moments before entering the dining room and throughout the meal, you feel as if you're on a psychedelic trip, then you're on an amusement park ride and then are transported to each of the places Pairet wants to take you with each of his dishes.
From the first moments in the car to the last dessert, the excitement of the unknown swells and is only perpetuated by the eagerness of the host and wait staff.
The first 10 courses, or act 1, are a mixture of classic favorites from Mr. And Mrs. Bund, including the truffle burnt soup bread (pictured)that is rich in oaky flavors, and new creations Pariet and his team have developed over the years.
The interpretation the British classic fish and chips - which, surprisingly, has no fish - was lightly battered and fried and served on an oversized plate, a teasing juxtaposition that is common throughout the meal.
The presentation goes beyond just what is presented on the plate and the scenes that are projected on the walls. The host, Fabien, who also serves as the restaurant's director, becomes a bit of the mad scientist as he prepares, cuts and serves the cuttlefish, which is uniquely paired with Sichuan spices.
One of the peaks of the meal was the first main course, the sea bass Monte Carlo. The bass was moist and baked in bread and topped with olive oil, tomato, mozzarella, olive and basil mixture that was as palatable as it was interesting.
Much like the first act, the six desserts tend to jump around a bit. Pairet once again pits classic and convention with childlike wonder and fun.
One minute you're enjoying a sophisticated carrot cake or egg tartlet and the next you're feasting on gummy bears and drinking gummy bear-infused Evian water while watching gummy bears (and the staff) race around the room.
There were some down sides to the six-hour psychedelic culinary exploration.
While each dish is creative and inventive, some of the dishes are very strong. The bouillabaisse, a classic French soup, while a mere spoonful, was very heavy and overloaded with flavors to the point of being overpowering.
For the untrained eater, the 23 courses is a hefty amount of food. As the table neared dessert number 4 or 5, we wondered if we could be able eat and enjoy any more of the food that was to come our way.
Another obstacle is the amount of time it takes to serve all these courses. There were a few times when there was a sense of hurriedness and diners not able to enjoy each course at their own pace.
What really stands out at Ultraviolet - second to the experience of it all - is the service.
With a wait staff ratio of 1:1, it's hard to not get swept into the moment with the amount of sheer passion and excitement coming from the waiters, host and cooks. No need is too small and no request unmanageable for the team. Guests are their top priority, and they make sure the experience is one that none will forget.
There are few things in Shanghai that can compare with the experience the team at Ultraviolet presents, be it with the food, presentation, service and entertainment value, especially with its price tag of 2,000 yuan ($318) per person (which includes wine and drink pairings).
The only hard part will be getting a spot at the table.