November 29, 2018 |
Whether you’re shivering your nipples off eating sorbet on an ice-table in a custom made igloo, or quaffing brandy on a train while trying to solve the ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, immersive restaurants have gone to extraordinary lengths in their quest to deliver something new and unique to diners. But is the whole immersion scene a passing fad that’s on its way out, needlessly promoting style over substance at inflated prices, or do they deserve their place within the wider realm of the food and beverage industry?
Simple immersive restaurants such as the Rainforest Cafe chain, which transports you into a mockup Amazonian basin in the middle of a city, have been around for decades. However, more grand immersive experiences first started to gain prominence around five years ago. Since then, Time Out guides for major metropolitan cities have been brimming with unique, extraordinary dining experiences that make dining in your local Italian look like watching porridge dry by comparison. From virtual-reality dining with the Philharmonia Orchestra, to vintage murder mystery dinners, to saloon’s that transport people back to the gunslinging Wild West: there’s no end to the weird and wacky ways in which to fill your belly.
But how about the food? Aren’t all of these distractions around your dinner akin to playing Twister during movie night? Food, you could argue, takes a back seat to the experience. But many establishments would no doubt argue that it merely embellishes it. And of course, often the price is also embellished. If you’re taking part in a theatrical Moulin Rouge dining experience, don’t be surprised at paying hundreds of dollars for the army of staff that’s needed, sometimes without the Michelin-starred culinary experience that would normally attach such a price tag.
Whether one gets their money’s worth is in the eye of the beholder. And there are world-renowned immersive restaurants that certainly put the majority of their imagination into the food itself. Renowned chef Heston Blumenthal has been wowing diners for years at his British restaurant The Fat Duck, with his unique brand of molecular gastronomy that has brought him three Michelin stars and won awards for being the best restaurant in the world. He’s never short of people willing to spend US$ 400 a head to taste his bacon and egg flavoured ice-creams and a host of other inventive creations. Heston puts the emphasis on creating an emotional connection with food, with his latest tasting menu an inspired take on the nostalgic memories he had growing up as a child.
When eating out, it’s true that one wants to have an emotional connection, especially as it’s almost always part of a social occasion. But emotional connections come in many forms. From a hearty, home-cooked arrabiata that brings back memories of a romantic holiday in Tuscany, to a theatrical dining experience that re-enacts your favourite coming-of-age movie, to a full-bodied bottle of red wine shared with good friends at your local gastropub, the emotional connection comes from the individual concerned. As long as immersive dining experiences help facilitate an avenue for these connections, they’ll continue to be a part of the culinary scene.
So don’t expect immersive restaurants to die out anytime soon. They may have hit a peak, just like cupcake shops did in 2011, but there will always be imaginative people looking to push the boat out and capture customers with wild new experiences. However, the ones that last for any decent amount of time will need to have a novelty that doesn’t wear off, and decent food to back it up.
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