I had the privilege to dine at Ultraviolet in Shanghai three months after booking a table, and out of pure luck, only two days after it received its third Michelin star. The timing couldn’t have been better, as the team at Ultraviolet was still in high spirits and celebratory mood. The restaurant only serves one seating for 10 guests each night. Being one of the chosen 30 that night was like winning a lottery!
Honestly, I had alternating emotions. Despite my ample share of experience dining in the world’s best three Michelin star restaurants, my jaw still dropped when I saw the outrageous price tag of RMB 8,888 (approximately IDR 18,000,000) for the special menu UV8888.
Finger poised on my mouse, I knew I had to click yes immediately to secure the precious seat. The little voice inside me reminded me that my birthday was coming up next week. Just like that, I had made up a good reason to indulge in a ridiculously extravagant treat.
Despite my excitement, deep down I was actually quite nervous about being seated with nine other strangers on a communal table and the awkward conversation that might ensue.
On the day, the guests were asked to meet at Mr. & Mrs. Bund, the sister restaurant, at 6:30 PM. We were served apple cider by the bar while waiting for everyone to arrive – a great ice breaker. At 7 PM, a shuttle bus transported us to Ultraviolet.
We then arrived at the secret location of the restaurant, a dark alleyway in what looked like an industrial warehouse space. The gate slid open to a dark entrance hall. The dining room was dimly lit and devoid of any single decoration, with a long white stark table and 10 black office-like chairs. The whole set up was so futuristic that it reminded me of the scene from Star Wars’ Death Star conference room, except that our table was rectangular. On the white table, the guest names were projected in light. Once we were seated, the great fanfare began!
The projector on one side of the wall displayed the menu and wine pairing that was about to be served. In the blink of an eye, all 360 degrees of the backdrop began showing gorgeous seashell images followed by dramatic music in the background. Without missing a beat, ten servers dressed in grey uniforms and baseball caps wearing blue aprons appeared from side doors with a silver plate of exquisite wood-fired abalone served with Pol Roger Champagne, 2004 Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill. The sommelier explained to us that the same exact champagne was served at Prince William and Princess Kate’s royal wedding – a very impressive anecdote that made me feel very much like a royal guest.
The experience intensified as we went through the courses. During the sea urchin course, the walls were showing ocean waves lapping on the beach, the audio was playing the sound of waves. I could almost trace the saltiness in the air. The surrounding walls shifted downwardsand the scenery from the beach moved to underwater life in the ocean. An interactive projector of a jolly nemo was playing hide-and-seek on my plate. It was all very entertaining, and to think that I had been so worried about making conversation with the other guests turned out to be unnecessary.
The image of calm seas changed to dreary storm and lightning with sounds of thunder, followed by images of rocks, soil and earth. We had been taken underground. On cue, the servers delivered glorious-smelling truffle-burnt soup bread.
As the wagyu ribeye was served, the setting changed from natural to urban landscape, revealing the beautiful Seine River with a romantic French song playing in the background. I could feel all my senses heightened, my entire neurons highly stimulated, and my mind wandering to the good memories I had back in Paris. The intended ambiance really did enhance the flavour of my meal.
Finally, the splendid dessert courses were served: the decadent lunar mushroom made of nutmeg, Grand Marnier and Yakult; the hazelnut tahini with bread woods; and the ambrosial raspberry peach Chantilly.
Just when we thought the dinner was over, the door slid open to reveal Chef Paul Pairet and team welcoming us to join them in the kitchen to have a group photo, nightcap and petit fours together. The guests gave a big round of applause and everyone was in high spirits – a perfectly orchestrated ending to the night!
It was a brilliant 22-course dégustation menu with precisely-choreographed audio, visual, scent and mood for every course – with a 10-minute intermission thoughtfully timed in between the seven dishes. The food was absolutely fantastic, highly imaginative and progressive. The wine pairings were amazing with the likes of great vintages such as Opus One 2006, Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva 2008, Chateau Margaux Premiere Grand Cru Classé 1998 and many other excellent champagnes and wines. It was an epic multi-sensory dinner. Salute, Chef Paul Pairet! I am a big fan!
Text by LINDA TAN