Fine dining has always incorporated an element of avant-gardiste flair, with top class chefs constantly searching for innovative and interesting ways in which to satisfy their customers using exquisite taste and presentation. Yet as we move through the 21st century, it appears that dining is taking a new tack, looking past (without overlooking) the elements of taste and aesthetics, and instead employing a multi-sensory approach that creates not just a meal, but a complete experience.
A key player in the realm of wacky and wonderful multi-sensory cuisine, Heston Blumenthal’s ‘The Fat Duck’ may be tucked away in the quaint English country village of Bray, but it has placed itself firmly on the map as one of the world’s top dining destinations, with three Michelin stars to prove it.
The staple “Tasting Menu” is the offering, but this name in fact sells itself short, as this fourteen-course journey through food presents not only tastes but sounds, textures, visuals and scents placing you within a fantastical story that stretches beyond your taste buds.
Take the ambiguously named “Sound of the Sea” course; served with an iPod (encased by a conch shell) playing out the sound of the ocean as you taste the Tapioca “sand,” the seaweed foam “surf” and a carefully positioned selection of cured fish.
Diners are encouraged to actively partake in the whole process, whether it is dissolving a golden pocket-watch to create a broth in “The Mad Hatters Tea Party,” or stirring your palate-cleansing lime mousse in Liquid nitrogen, from the moment you sit at the table you are part of the show.
This multi-sensual dining experience, though innovative, is not the only one of its kind. In the U.S., Opaque is exploring not just five-sense-gastronomy, but actually taking one sense out of the equation with the five-city restaurant concept “Dining in the Dark.”
It sounds slightly dangerous, but in fact the concept is based on the age-old idea that if one key sense is eliminated, it serves to enhance the other senses, thus allowing diners to be completely immersed into a world of taste, sound, aroma and texture, without allowing sight to reign supreme.
Diners are ironically served and guided by trained blind servers, in a completely black room with a surprise menu, that they are able to view after the sitting. Restaurants of this kind are appearing across the globe under many different companies, with venues in Berlin, Paris, London and Zurich for example, all centered on the idea of “dark dining” and stimulation of the (remaining) 4 senses.
In May 2012 however, multi-sensual gastronomy was launched into a completely new sphere, with the use of cutting-edge technology not only in the food and the service, but also in the dining room itself. Cue Ultraviolet; the world’s newest and arguably most innovative restaurant experience, “somewhere in Shanghai.’
An adventure from the outset, guests are picked up from a specified location in Shanghai before being transported into French chef Paul Pairet’s world of “psycho-taste” and what a world it is. A blank room with just 10 white seats awaits diners, providing a blank canvas for the sensory explosion that ensues.
A 20 course-tasting menu is served, each course transforming the room into a new mood, showcasing a different scenario, with sounds, visuals, scents and even a room temperature to match. With 360º HD visual projections, the walls are a blizzard one moment as the room blusters with cool air to warrant the degustation of a warming soup, and the next, guests are surrounded by the river seine, the soft tinkling of Debussy and candles while eating their rack of lamb.
Dishes are thematic and beautiful, yet it is impossible to separate a dish from its service, as Pairet transforms the entire room at every stage in the proceedings. Behind the scenes, the seemingly blank dining room holds host to dry-scent diffusers, 22 speakers, 60 LED lights, 7 image projectors and even turbines to blow in tempered air; all to create an unparalleled adventure through dining, that will fascinate and excite.
by Lucy Maguire
Image Above: Logo of “The Fat Duck” restaurant