Ultraviolet in Shanghai, the first multi-sensory restaurant in the world, uses sight, sound and smell to create a specific atmosphere that enhances the food being served. As you step into the dining room you almost feel like you are entering a theatre – there are no paintings and no windows yet there is an abundance of theatrical technology such as scent projectors, UV lighting, wall projectors, beam speakers and a multi-channel speaker system. Each course of the menu is matched with the perfect scent, music, sounds and lights in order to provide the ideal context for the dish.This concept is based on chef Pairet’s interest and desire to stimulate the “psycho-taste” which allows eating to evoke memories, associations, ideas and emotions. By carefully creating the ambiance that is assigned to a particular dish, Pairet triggers these emotions and associations and helps to create a unique experience.
This is the idea of multisensory dining – which focuses on treating all the senses to an immersive experience that is designed to enhance the flavour of the dish. In recent years the culinary world has been fascinated by modernist cooking and the role that the dining experience plays.
Chefs are working to understand how we use our senses to appreciate food and how they can create an environment that improves the dining experience. They are focusing on all elements of a meal, from flavour to sound to visuals and even the tactile shape of the glasses or cutlery. There is quite a bit of research currently going on in this field, determining how our other senses affect the way that we perceive a dish we are eating.
Multisensory Cuisine Around the World
There are many multisensory restaurants around the world that explore this concept of cuisine that immerses all of the senses. For example, El Celller de Can Roca in Catalonia, Spain is another restaurant that experiments with fragrances combined with food. One of their most famous dishes is a Sourdough ice cream with fried lychee, sherry-vinegar meringue and cocoa pulp. It has a motor concealed in the dough that causes the ice cream to dance.
Also, the restaurant The Fat Duck in England also serves up a tasting menu that plays to the five senses. For example, the dish called “Sound of the Sea” includes oysters, clams and seaweed and is served in a conch shell. The shell conceals an iPod that plays sounds of the ocean and waves crashing in order to add to the dining experience.
Parlour Restaurant in London is another spot where multi-sensory dining is taken to new heights. When you experience the tasting menu you will be fitted with headphones and you will listen to a carefully chosen classical symphony while a 20 component dessert is laid out on the table. Each course of the meal is served with a theatrical element and often the dishes are served on something unique, such as a vintage garden tap. There can be few better gifts for a man who loves cuisine.
Another one of the world’s finest multi-sensory dining experiences is Sublimotion, which takes place at the Hard Rock Hotel in Ibiza and is a $2,000 tasting menu experience that serves only 12 guests per night. It is the world’s most expensive tasting menu and it includes a carefully crafted experience with food, ambiance, lighting and music that will excite all of the senses. Also, another truly impressive dining experience is the “culinary opera” created by The Roca Brothers at the Arts Santa Monica in Barcelona. It is a 12 course opera that transports diners to “another dimension.”
In Hong Kong chef Andrea Oschetti of Cuore Private Chef has created a series of special multi-sensory dinners. Oschetti has worked with violinist Erica Ye Byeol Lee to put together dishes that are perfectly paired with original musical compositions. Also, another dinner featured dance performances by Kate March’s dance troupe with a tiramisu dessert that was assembled in front of each guest by the dancers as they twirled around the table.
These are just a few of the many multisensory restaurants around the world that are experimenting with innovative approaches to dining that encompasses all of the senses. Dining at these restaurants is more than just eating a meal, it is a fully immersive experience that includes all of the senses and creates a unique experience that is unforgettable.
The Science behind Multisensory Dining
There have been a lot of studies on multisensory dining and they have shown that sounds affect they way that we perceive flavours. For example, Professor Charles Spence at the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford demonstrated the effect in an experiment that he conducted with Heston Blumenthal.
He used Blumenthal’s culinary creation bacon and egg ice cream and served it to study participants with two different soundtracks playing in the background – either the sound of bacon sizzling or the sound of chickens clucking. Those tasters who listened to the bacon sounds reported that the bacon flavour was the most intense in the dish, while those who listened to the chickens reported that the egg flavour was more prominent.
This shows that chefs can use audio and other sensory influences to influence the flavour of a dish. Even small details such as the colour of the plate can affect the taste of a meal. In a study with 53 volunteers, strawberry mousse was served on either white or black plates. The tasters liked the mousse better when it was served on a white plate and they described it as sweeter and more flavourful.
The science of multisensory dining is still being researched and there are a lot of aspects to discover. When it comes to creating an immersive dining experience that evokes all of the senses, many of the world’s best restaurants are dedicated to exploring this field and putting together the ultimate sensory meal.
Sebastian is a former hedge fund trader who worked only to indulge his true passion – food.
He has dined at over 240 Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, savoring culinary masterpieces and understanding the stories behind them. He now advises restaurants on menu design, decor and holistic diner experience.