Once upon a time, restaurants focused on the food on the plate, good service, and a dash of ambience. Increasingly, however, seasoned diners are seeking out multisensory experiential dining, from high-tech elements to underwater adventures and (literally) elevated meals. We explore some of the standout options around the world.
UNDER THE SEA
Taking a deep dive, an underwater restaurant is sure to give you a new perspective on dining. Seating just ten tables for two, 5.8 Undersea Restaurant at the Hurawalhi Maldives resort is the world’s largest all-glass underwater dining venue. Situated atop a coral reef at 5.8 metres below the surface, the dome-shaped restaurant grants immersive 180-degree views of the clear waters and vibrant sea life. “It’s not every day that you get the chance to dine among the marine creatures of the Indian Ocean,” says executive chef Edouard Deplus.
Dinner is the most sought-after option, as guests experience the transformation from day to night, while another desirable meal is the private champagne breakfast. “Lucky guests enjoy the restaurant to themselves, inclusive of a photographer to capture this unique moment,” says Deplus. Open to non-guests as well, the restaurant can also be booked for a private meal with a bespoke menu and has been the setting for many romantic occasions, including marriage proposals and anniversaries.
Complementing the stunning views are the multi-course tasting menus and an impressive wine list. Seafood is the focus, although if eating fish as you watch them swim by is a bit much, there are also vegan, vegetarian, and meat-centric menus available. “5.8 will send your senses soaring with exquisite culinary masterpieces, all the time surrounded by the ocean and its abundant life,” says Deplus. “Be prepared for a sensory overload of the best kind imaginable.”
Equally impressive is the one-Michelin-starred Under, the world’s largest underwater restaurant (at some 5,300 square feet) in Lindesnes, Norway. The architecture-forward design takes diners 5.5 metres beneath the surface. “Half-sunken into the icy waters, Under provides a panoramic view of the seabed, a visual gateway to the sea that connects guests to the wildlife outside,” says head chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard. “It’s an opportunity to view the rarely seen marine ecosystem of the North Atlantic Ocean.”
The elegant, calming interior of the restaurant, which seats 40, keeps the focus on the exquisite dishes and the theatre-like glass wall. “Dining at Under is unique,” says Ellitsgaard. “Our building is amazing and the fact that diners are eating underwater gives a very special feeling. Fresh ingredients and pure, naked flavours are of the utmost importance to us. Simultaneously, we want to provide an experience that ushers our guests beyond their comfort zone.”
The stellar dishes and innovative plating complement the views, and to heighten the excitement, details of the constantly changing Immersion Menu – an 18-course, locally sourced, seafood-focused menu – are only available upon arrival. “All the senses are affected when dining at Under,” concludes Ellitsgaard. “This is not a meal – it’s a journey.”
Nestled seven metres high in the rainforest canopy of Koh Kood, Thailand is a single bamboo pod, inspired by the weaver bird, which is known for its elaborately woven nests. Welcome to Treepod Dining at the Soneva Kiri resort. Available throughout the day and accommodating up to four guests, this unique dining experience delivers all meals – from breakfast to candlelit dinners and wine tastings – by way of a personal zip-lining waiter with seemingly acrobatic skills. All the dishes are as picturesque as the surrounds, with South Asian, Thai, and international menus.
“It’s the only experience where you dine suspended beneath a canopy of trees, with views out across the sea,” says Jamie Waring, the resort’s general manager. “Inspired by the free-spirited nature of childhood and the desire to climb high up into a leafy canopy, it’s a place where the imagination soars and dreams are born.” All the senses come into play here, he adds. “Guests get the taste and smell of the dishes, the aroma, sounds, and sights of the jungle and the ocean below, and the feeling of the touch of a cool sea breeze against the skin.”
Going even higher is the original Dinner in the Sky, which takes diners approximately 50 metres in the air, seated at a table secured to a purpose-built crane. “After a glass of champagne, guests are seated while the chef finishes preparations. Then they are seat-belted and the ascension starts,” explains David Ghysels, the founder and owner.
Depending on the menu for the specific event, there are between three and six courses featuring premium ingredients, from a simple seafood platter and champagne through to gastronomic meals prepared by some of the world’s top chefs, which has included Pierre Gagnaire, Heston Blumenthal, Massimo Bottura, and Virgilio Martinez. One of the more experiential aspects is the interaction. “What’s really unique is that, because of the height, the chef is really with you and takes the time to engage with each guest,” says Ghysels.
Everything about the exclusive experience is sensorial fun, says Ghysels, and is more than just a meal in the sky. “We pay a lot of attention to all the details, from the on-ground welcome area to the set-up around the platform – and particularly when the platform is lifted, which should be a
In the coming months, the company is offering dining experiences in London, Athens, Mexico City, St Petersburg, Brussels, Dubai, and more, with further information available on its website.
Tables that come to life, walls that morph into moving landscapes, complementary smells and sounds, and engaging interactive moments. Welcome to the world of high-tech fine dining, where nothing is as it seems and everything is designed to stimulate. Two of the most noted restaurants that deliver this experience are Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet in Shanghai and Sublimotion by Paco Roncero in Ibiza.
Ultraviolet was the first in the world in this category, uniting food with multisensory technology to create a fully immersive dining experience. At a single table for ten, diners indulge in a 20-course avant-garde menu. “With food as the lead, dinner unfolds as a sensory play choreographed by myself and the team,” says Pairet. “Each course is enhanced by its atmosphere, tailored to the taste and theme of the dish. This can include lights, sounds, music, scents, movement, and projections. The goal is to serve the dish at its best, surrounded by the most relevant atmosphere and ambience.”
Take the dish Truffle Burnt Soup Bread – a slice of bread that’s heavily toasted on one side and soft on the other, soaked with meunière sauce, topped with truffle slices and a spoon of meunière foam, briefly smoked with cigar leaves before serving, and ultimately covered by a glass dome. “Diners are first surrounded by a foggy forest, hearing the sound of birds and animals, accompanied by peaceful music from a piano, smelling the earthy scents of wood, soil, leaves, mushroom, and dampness, and feeling slightly cooler,” explains Pairet. “A moment later, a waiter presents the dish to the diner and removes the dome. First, they experience the smoky smell, then they enjoy the dish.” A meal at Ultraviolet puts diners inside Pairet’s imaginative universe, taking them on a culinary journey of time and space they will never forget.
Sublimotion is also a single-table restaurant (for 12) with a 20-course menu. Roncero says it’s a unique immersive experience that’s difficult to describe. “Imagine the fusion of haute cuisine with the most cutting-edge technology and the most spectacular staging in order to achieve an unprecedented gastronomic performance,” he explains. “It’s a new scenic art in which what diners taste is complemented by the staging in which sight, hearing, and touch are elevated. This is achieved thanks to a multidisciplinary team of chefs, designers, illusionists, composers, and choreographers.”
Roncero says that beyond the exceptional dishes, it’s an opportunity for time travel. ”Without leaving the room, diners experience fun and exciting moments such as eating in the ocean, descending into hell, going inside a video game, or dancing to the rhythm of an Ibizan night.” This year’s programme marks the seventh season for Sublimotion after a hiatus due to the pandemic. “It returns with the same enthusiasm, new experiences, and an eagerness to continue to excite all those who decide to sit at its table.”