When is a restaurant not a restaurant? When it’s a fully immersive multi-sensorial experience accompanied by “avant-garde figurative cuisine.”

If that sounds pretentious, it’s probably meant to, but such is the way of Paul Pairet and the VOL Group’s restaurant, Ultraviolet, in Shanghai. It is hard to tell whether Pairet is taking the often-pompous world of modern haute cuisine too far, or having a (very) elaborate joke at its expense. Whichever one it is, it seems to work, with diners and critics alike raving about Ultraviolet since it launched.

Born and trained in France, Pairet is regarded as one of the leading avant garde chefs, often talked about in the same breath as Heston Blumenthal. First making his mark at Café Mosaic in Paris, his culinary style was influenced by his French training combined with his wanderings to date – taking in Sydney, Hong Kong and Jakarta. Noticed by legendary French master chef, Alain Ducasse, he was then headhunted to be head chef at the Ritz Carlton Cam in Istanbul where he turned the restaurant into the city’s first cutting edge eatery.

From Istanbul he made the move to Shanghai in 2005 to open ‘Jade on 36’, the flagship restaurant of the Shangri-La Hotel Pudong where, in less than three years, he’d established international fame for his “highly personal and completely original cuisine: often exaggerated, highly technical plays on texture, temperature, and preconceived expectations”.

In 2008, Pairet teamed up with the VOL food and beverage group, then launched Mr & Mrs Bund in 2009; a very French and very modern restaurant, featuring simple but classic and well executed dishes. 

But one suspects that all through his time in Istanbul and Shanghai, Pairet’s mind was fermenting the idea that would eventually become Ultraviolet, and indeed Pairet himself confirms this saying that Ultraviolet was 15 years in conception.

The experience begins long before any food is brought to a table; the diners for that evening are driven around Shanghai, eventually arriving at a secret location in an old neighbourhood. Each evening’s dining is limited to a maximum of 10 guests; whether individuals, a private party, or a combination of guests. You then enter through a set of anonymous double doors and step into Pairet’s world of fantasy – one suspects that Pairet grew up on a cocktail of Narnia books and James Bond films. Metal doors slide open as you approach, leading you to where a welcome drink awaits on a raw wood bar.

After your drink, another door slides silently open, inviting you into a hallway lit by a Baccarat crystal chandelier. Pairet’s love of, and flair for, the melodramatic is obvious as you finally enter the dining room to the opening chords of Strauss’s ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ – the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey – and a blank canvas of an all-white room with a plain table and 10 white chairs. There is no décor, no paintings or prints hanging on the walls, no windows to gaze out. Pairet and his team have designed the evening to be a totally immersive experience with each course being accompanied by specially tailored sound, vision, and even scents.

What follows are 20 courses over four hours; a journey through whimsy and the quirky imagination of this inventive Frenchman. As the owners themselves say; “A dining room that more closely resembles a movie theatre, with 360-degree video screen walls, surround-sound speakers, and high-tech overhead lighting, each dish is accompanied by a carefully choreographed set of sounds; visuals and even scents, all intended to create a specific ambience to enhance the flavors of the meal.”

Pairet’s play on fish and chips, for example, features a single battered caperberry stuffed with an anchovy paste and paired with a Scottish beer, while the video projectors portray a typically British storm onto the walls of the room, complete with sounds of thunder, followed by a Union Jack being illuminated on the table and the Beatles song, ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ playing through the speakers. For the lobster course, the diners are surrounded by the images of crashing waves and the sound of seagulls while the host walks around the room spreading the scent of seawater from a pressure cooker.

With examples of dishes ranging from Engloved Truffe Lamb to No Shark Fin Soup and from Cucumber Lollipop to something called Ispahan Dishwash, diners know that they will never have tasted anything similar before. And with a soundtrack to your food that ranges from AC/DC through Ennio Morricone and the theme from Zorba and ending up with Edith Piaf, you can’t fail to be entertained too

Since the late 1990s and the innovations of Blumethal, there have been an increasing number of chefs stretching the boundaries of their cuisine and conceptual integration has become a big part of that – Blumenthal even enlisted illusionist Derren Brown to help with the relaunch of his pioneering Fat Duck restaurant.

Pairet’s avant-garde vision, combined with his startling skills in the kitchen have not only created a unique dining experience in the Far East, but have gained the restaurant the accolade of the third best restaurant in Asia (and best in China) for 2015. With prices starting at around $600 for the evening – a price that some commentators say means they run at a loss due to the 25 chefs and waiters catering only to ten diners nightly – one expects great food, but the multi-media additions make it seem good value for money too.