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Psycho-taste in Shanghai with Paul Pairet – Ultraviolet

By 7.30pm, the last guests have arrived. A last sip of sparkling, and it’s time to go.
One van with tinted windows is waiting. The driver wears black. We are heading to nowhere, a few lanes, left. Right. Left. The driver must be lost.
The van stops in front of a crumbling local factory. We are trapped. What am I doing here? Is this the Restaurant?
Doors open; nobody there, just a table, ascetic, immaculate, white…majestic.
And then, a gong rings out loudly; a countdown begins: « 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…»
A power failure, a serious one… Everything goes silent. The room is dark, pitch dark, black black.

Reads like the plot of a suspense thriller! Not my words really. This is, supposedly, the experience of a diner on his way to this restaurant, as is posted in the brochure of the one of its kind, world class dining experience at French Avant Garde Chef Paul Pairet’s restaurant Ultra Violet. A novel concept. So ‘novel’ indeed that it remained 15 years in gestation before coming to fruition in May 2012 in Shanghai.

Chef Paul Pairet has turned the eating-out experience into an adventure, linking food with emotions, and other stuff, and something about ‘psycho-taste’, which he says is ‘everything about taste but the taste’. It gets more intriguing. The location of Ultra Violet is not disclosed. Bookings made online, months in advance since there is seating only for ten, around one table. Only dinner is served from Tuesday through Saturday. Pay RMB2000, about $300, per person, upfront at time of booking. Be there on time.

‘There’ happens to be a pick up point, where the guest is to be ferried in a tinted and curtained automobile to an undisclosed destination, which you find out soon enough, to be a windowless room. Expect to be served a fixed 20 course menu with pre-decided wine pairings and – the fun’s just begun.

The dining area has 3600 projections that create illusions of being in a variety of situations anywhere from the tropics to the polar caps – crashing waves, pouring rain, psychedelic colours, sun sets. Temperatures fall or rise, a breeze might start to blow, musical scores, birds chirruping. Each course is set to the backdrop of a new musical score. The Avocado Brulee Nutella arrives on the table to the score of Jazz Funk. The feat is achieved with high tech equipment, high-definition projectors, laser speakers, air turbines to blow air at desired temperatures, infra-red cameras, all synchronised to perfection.

A former science student, Paul Pairet acquired his culinary training in France, the land of his birth. He made his mark in 1998 at Café Mosaic in Paris, and subsequently travelled to Hong Kong, Sydney, Istanbul and now China. He arrived in Shanghai in 2005 and launched the Jade on 36, which won rave reviews for its avant-garde cuisine and ambience. Three years later, in 2008 he joined the VOL Group. Besides the experimental Ultra Violet, he also operates the Mr & Mrs Bund. Ultra Violet has received rave reviews in the press, and not just for the food, which is avant-garde figurative, but also Pairet’s style that is experimental, exploratory, and perfectly executed. No one has gone away not overwhelmed by the experience. Each time is a different sensory trip. That is something.

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