Ultraviolet. How do I begin? How can I even write about this whole dinner without spoiling it for readers?
I went in with super high expectations and excitement, and was totally floored by the experience. It surpassed every and anything that I thought it could be.
It left me wondering what is food anymore?
It murdered all chances for future restaurants to ‘blow my mind’.
It introduced a new prefix to every review I might have for future restaurants — ‘well it ain’t Ultraviolet.. but…’.
At one point during the dinner, I was nearly moved to tears. I had already lost count of how many epiphanies that I had encountered that evening.
It wasn’t because of how delicious a particular dish tasted, rather, it was a culmination of all the senses being stimulated so strongly that one would feel overwhelmed.
I literally felt the amount of effort and energy that one man had poured into this evening, channelled directly into head chef Greg Robinson and distributed across his 25 or so brilliant staff before arriving at the 10 diners each night.
You could say that I felt the force, the force of Paul Pairet.
After the dinner, I was torn between whether or not to write about the Ultraviolet experience.
On one hand, I didn’t want to spoil the experience for others, because the evening was filled with many surprises and even easter eggs.
Secondly, I was truly humbled. Humbled to the extent that I don’t see myself worthy of even writing about the food at Ultraviolet. I mean, I don’t even know how more than half of the food were created. So blurred were the lines between what seemed edible and not, that I tried to eat a wet towel served in a cup. (The team might have had a good laugh in the back, looking at the monitors)
On the other hand, I felt that something needed to be spoken, even though, as it currently stands, getting a seat at Ultraviolet is already a daunting task (You need to book about 2 months in advance). To many people, Ultraviolet feels like a overpriced gimmicky dinner that is about some pretentious morsels of food, paired with sights, sounds and smells, and that one will leave after paying thousands of yuan feeling hungry. Indeed, that too, was my perception before I tried it.
Having experienced the Ultraviolet UVC menu, let me lay down a few facts to debunk some myths.
It is indeed a dinner that incorporates morsel-sized portions of food, paired with sights, sounds and smells. There are however, 20 courses (with extras).
That said, every dish at Ultraviolet is extremely complex in one form or another. If you are a simple eater whose diet involves mostly sandwiches and fried chicken, you may not be able to appreciate the food at Ultraviolet.
Every course has an alcoholic drink paired. They ranged from wines to whiskies and cognac. Request for a non-alcoholic pairing during your reservation if you are not a drinker.
I only drank 60% of my drinks, otherwise I would have been totally drunk.
It is an expensive meal. Possibly one of the most expensive in some of ours life times. Tuesdays and Thursdays are considerably cheaper, at 4000 RMB (580 USD) per head, as opposed to the usual 6000 RMB (871 USD) per head. On certain nights, there is also a premium + version of each menu, which offers an even more premium wine pairing and an occasional Prestige 888 dinner which combines dishes from menus A, B and C together in one, all-stars, best of the best dinner with the best wines, costing a staggering 8888 RMB (1290 USD) per head.
All that said, I went for the 4000 RMB standard version of menu C, and can say that it was well worth it. It’s not something that I would or could pay for every now and then, but as a bucket list item, it was alright. Of course, this is coming from someone whose monthly pay check is only 4-5 times that of the price of dinner. If the amount is minuscule to your earnings, then you probably wouldn’t be too bothered by the price, other than the fact that it is worth it.
You will leave Ultraviolet neither hungry nor thirsty. In fact, you will not only leave feeling full from the food but also full of awe. The dinner is a lot of food.
That said, trying to get your stomach stuffed IS NOT THE POINT at Ultraviolet. If you want to stuff yourself until you reach a food coma, go to a diner or some buffet restaurant.
Dining at Ultraviolet is to witness the spectacle that is Paul Pairet’s masterpiece.
It is to fall helplessly into an emotional rollercoaster that Paul Pairet had devised for everyone.
As a matter of fact, that is exactly what an evening at Ultraviolet is like — a 3 hour gastronomical rollercoaster ride. It is like going to that TRON ride at Disneyland, only that this one lasts over 3 hours.
You are allowed to take any and as many photos as you want, with no flash, and not delaying the next course. Lighting is dim for most of the dinner, however there is always some sort of light shone over the dish, though more often than not, it is a coloured or patterned light.
You do need to shoot quickly though, because every course is timed, and plates will be collected once the next course is due.
Chef Paul Pairet is NOT at the kitchen every evening, not that his absence would have any effect on the food, since head chef Greg Robinson is well in-charge of the kitchen’s execution.
Just pray hard that Paul will be there for after-dinner photos.
After much thought of this whole matter on writing about the experience, I have come to a resolution on how to do it; I will only be writing about the food and as simply as I can, to avoid giving away the surprise for many of the dishes.
Paul Pairet himself had admitted before that not every dish was meant to be straight up delicious for everyone. What that meant was that certain dishes are meant to evoke emotion and/or stimulate senses. The courses at Ultraviolet can be classified into 3 types:
These are the straight-up delicious dishes. Think bacon, foie gras, wagyu beef, etc.
These are dishes that might hardly resemble food and/or are prepared in a highly technical way that you would never have thought possible — a WTF moment.
These are courses that inject feelings and emotions on your first bites. Food that transports you back to a memory, be it that of the Chefs or your own.
I will show you nearly every course I had and my labelling of that dish according to the 3 types, along with the official menu description.
I will describe very little, because apart from that being a spoiler, I see myself unfit to critique any of these works of art.
So without further ado, let us feast our eyes on the dishes from Ultraviolet Menu C.
Carabineros de Huelva
My favourite dish of the evening.
Brought me back to that time when I nearly drowned in the waters of Hawaii.
One of the teary moments. I felt warmth and comfort.
This one is personal to Chef Paul Pairet
Mushroomssss (Part 2)
Candle in the Wind
The Black Pepper Beef
Ok this one I will comment a bit, since I am from Singapore, and once opened a successful Singaporean restaurant in Shanghai. I can concur that this dish, while not an accurate representation of any Singaporean dish, remarkably, managed to replicate the feel and flavours of Singaporean food.
Beijing Cola Duck
No Peach Melba
There was another one last dessert and maybe more, but I will leave that to your suspense.
It’s great to learn how many times Paul Pairet had failed the Ultraviolet concept, before finally succeeding here in Shanghai, and also that Ultraviolet is a non-profit restaurant.
If you think that the super expensive fees of 4000-8888 RMB per head is raking in huge profits for them, and the fact that they’ve never had an empty seat since they’ve opened, you are dead wrong.
Ultraviolet serves only 10 persons each night featuring top notch ingredients and wine pairing for every course, with at least 25 staff working their asses off for that service
Speaking of which, the staff at Ultraviolet are the best I’ve ever encountered in Shanghai, and possibly one of, if not the best service I’ve had, ever.
Constant smiles, humour at times but best of all, you feel comfortable at all times. There is no expectation on you. In fact, there is no dress code for Ultraviolet. Under their F.A.Q for what would be the appropriate dress code, their answer is “ Be you. “
Our friend at the table joked that we should do an au naturale UV dinner some time, to which our hostess nervously asked ‘Do I have to be naked too?’
Lastly, our hosts, Kim and Collin, spectacular hospitality. Truly stellar.
So is Ultraviolet worth all that money and hype? Hell yeah.