I interviewed Chef Paul a little more than 2 years ago about his new Mr. & Mrs. Bund Restaurant, which was and remains to be, one of my the best restaurants in Shanghai and one of my personal favourites. At this time he mentioned a new concept called “Ultraviolet.” He described it very simply – a multi-sensory experience with music and images to complement the food. However, despite the simple explanation it was a bit hard to understand for me at the time. Having now experienced Ultraviolet, I and having been completely blown away, I would definitely call multi-sensory dining the experience of a lifetime. But having said that, I realize I will struggle now to you the reader to explain why it is so amazing, in the same way that I struggled to understand Chef Paul’s description. Please allow me to try.
There are only 10 seats and thus only 10 diners at Ultravoilet dinners at 2,200RMB per person. As you can imagine, with it’s growing buzz, it is no easy feat to get a seat at this table. And with 25 servers, you are guaranteed a level of service you have likely not experienced in Asia, and perhaps not anywhere in the world. Chef Paul has designed the experience to be a combination of sight and sound and taste as previously described and each of these servers are somehow “actors” in this dining experience. It could, in fact, be described as experimental dining theater. But, whatever you call it, it is for sure the best restaurant / dining experience in Shanghai right now.
The experience begins when diners meet in Mr. & Mrs. Bund to get a briefing. A briefing? Yes….it turns out there are 22 courses, with one intermission and no one is allowed to leave until this intermission. Each course comes with a specially paired drink, usually alcoholic but not always. We are assured they are just tasting portions, so not to worry….we won’t be having 22 full size cocktails (read: it’s not an evening of hard drinking). Once the briefing is done we set off in a luxury transport van to see what awaits us.
The restaurant is in a remote, inhospitable part of Shanghai that feels rather industrial, which only heightens the drama of the moment. We are ushered in through a series of doors and emerge in a room with a single large table, not unlike a board room. The entire room is white, and it soon becomes apparent why – the walls are screens for 360 degree projection which will change with each course.
And so it begins. Host Fabien Verdier expertly guides the diners through each course – part game show host and tour guide. Some courses are somber and serious (but in a camp sort of way) like the cuttlefish course which feels as if one is transported to the set of Kubrik’s Doctor Strangelove. While others are quirky and playful like the gummy bear dessert which has Evian-water gummy bears staging some sort of standoff admist a plate of topographical sweet treats.
It’s hard to say which is the “best” or “most memorable” part. My favourite moment may have been the fish and chips course when the infectious Beatles song “Ob La di La Da” broke the cautious silence in the room, and I was transported to a rainy London. Whereas the most transporting course for me was likely the lobster course where the images of the sea crashing onto rocks felt incredibly real…the pièce de résistance being our host Fabien releasing the steam of briny lobster into the room toward the end of the course. The bread meunière course, which has been on the menu of Chef Paul’s other restaurants, will always be Shanghai comfort food to me – when I was frequently traveling alone to Shanghai on business a few years back, I would walk from my hotel to Mr. & Mrs. Bund and sit at the bar with a splurge-worthy glass of wine and order this dish.
In fact, each course is a journey that is oftentimes playful which is characteristic of Chef Paul’s characteristic sense of humour and inventiveness that he has also displayed at Mr. & Mrs. Bund and previously at Jade on 36 - like the foie gras cigarette which has been featured on the menu in multiple locations.. Chef Paul to me is like a mad scientist, in the best possible way…challenging what we thought possible with food and totally transforming the dining experience at Ultraviolet. Suddenly the experience I couldn’t imagine came to life before my eyes…inspiring laughter and joy and moments of pure (almost childish) delight.
If you are a foodie and you are looking to push the boundaries of your culinary experiences, I would say look no further and get thee to Ultraviolet!