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Immersive Drinking and Dining Experiences Overseas

Experiences

Kate Mooney | October 11, 2018
Interactive, multisensory meals aren’t limited to the United States — chefs, performers, and mixologists around the world are all creating unusual dining experiences

How much of our enjoyment of a meal has to do with the food itself, and how much with the sights, sounds, and ambiance that accompany it? The field of immersive dining explores how the perception of flavor and taste can be altered through the environment in which food is served. There are groups all across America innovating in this milieu, from creative takes on city-specific historical events in Los Angeles to atmospheric parties in New York City that transport attendees to another time and place.

And this movement is by no means limited to the United States. From Amsterdam to London, chefs, actors, musicians, and mixologists are coming together to create immersive, multisensory food and drink experiences. Whether it’s a restaurant where diners eat in complete darkness or a design studio that hosts epic feasts set to live performance art, these international groups are finding new and creative ways to satisfy diners — beyond what’s on their plates.

photo courtesy of Kitchen Theory

Dining in delicious darkness

Would you eat something if you couldn’t see what it was? And how would that enhance your dining experience? These are the questions asked by dining-in-the-dark restaurants, such as Amsterdam’s Ctaste, where all you can see is… nothing, making for a meal eaten with heightened senses and taste buds on high alert.

After experiencing the concept at a restaurant in Paris while on vacation with his wife, Ctaste owner Bas de Ruiter knew he wanted to bring dark dining to Amsterdam. He opened his iteration in 2007, and as the only “dark” restaurant in the city, it’s been busy ever since.

photo courtesy of Ctaste

At Ctaste, a team of visually impaired waiters serve a “surprise menu” in a pitch-black room. Diners may inform their server about any allergies or vegan/vegetarian preferences, but otherwise, the meal remains a mystery for them to discover as they taste it — and the offerings change with the season, keeping the flavors fresh and varied.

“We want every bite to be a small meal: there are different combinations of flavors all over the plate,” de Ruiter explains. One recent dish consisted of baked phyllo dough balls filled with quinoa and a spicy coconut curry; de Ruiter describes biting into it as experiencing a “taste explosion.”

“I like how you create a job for somebody who is [visually impaired] and you’re sharing an experience with a lot of people who can get an insight into a world that’s totally unknown to them,” says de Ruiter. “Every time people go [to Ctaste] they are really excited about the dinner.”

Munching a multisensory meal

“Flavor is a multisensory construct of the mind, rather than just simple perception in the mouth,” explains Chef Jozef Youssef. “If you think about all the expectation, judgments, enjoyment, satiety — all of these emotions and feelings connected to food — all of these reside in the brain.”

photo courtesy of Kitchen Theory

The London-based chef and alum of Michelin-starred eateries The Fat Duck and The Dorchester is describing “multisensory gastronomy,” the way that stimulating all five senses plays into our perception of flavor. It’s something he’s researched alongside Dr. Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University, and 10 years ago, Youssef founded Kitchen Theory, a “gastronomy experience design lab,” to further explore the concept. In the Kitchen Theory studio, Youssef hosts the Gastrophysics Chef’s Table: private, ticketed 10-course meals that immerse diners in a multisensory experience as they eat.

As one example, Youssef serves a dish of salt-cured jellyfish paired with an “aquatic” soundscape, featuring “crunchy” sounds that enhance the texture of the food while images of the sea are projected on the wall.

photo courtesy of Kitchen Theory

“It’s interesting to see how you can bring an ingredient like this that people have a bit of apprehension about trying, and when they’re faced with it, it can be an enjoyable, memorable experience,” he says.

Feasting on fairy tales

Fans of fairy tales, feasts, and live performance can find the sweet spot where they all intersect in events hosted by London design studio Darling and Edge.

Harriet Darling and Elise Edge design the menus, cocktails, and sets, collaborating with a team of chefs and actors to bring to life their interactive, multisensory events — which have included a three-course dinner set to an interactive ballet of Swan Lake, a funhouse called Goosebumps Alive, and a mezcal-infused Day of the Dead celebration.

photo courtesy of Darling & Edge

For their most recent event, Beauty and the Feast, the team created a “playful and fun” fairy-tale banquet, featuring a hearty and elaborate feast of giant pumpkins filled with black bean stew, a centerpiece of decadent blue-cheese cheesecake adorned with figs and nuts, and a main course of sausages on a string, roasted potatoes, and greens. It was served family style, paired with live Beauty and the Beast–inspired cabaret.

“We want to encourage this aspect of making friends and talking to people and sharing and eating together,” explains Edge.

photo courtesy of Darling & Edge

Biting into books

You’ve heard of a book club, but what about a supper club that takes its inspiration from great works of literature? London’s The Literary Hour stages elaborate meals, called “chapters,” that it themes after classics like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Wind in the Willows, and Around the World in 80 Days.

The Literary Hour was formed three years ago by Simon Lindsell, Jude Skipwith, and Helen Oakley as a way to combine their love of the culinary and the literary. They started out hosting bookish dinners in their apartment — for their debut, they did a take on Willy Wonka’s “three-course chewing gum,” infusing flavors of tomato soup, roast beef, and blueberry pie — and then graduated to pop-ups at different venues around London.

photo courtesy of Literary Hour

Beyond the creativity and fun of combining elaborate meals and great books, the concept is also an effort to expand diners’ culinary horizons. “What we want to do is give people interesting food they wouldn’t necessarily go out and order, but when you’re served it, you’re delighted by it,” says Helen, the group’s CFO.

The next chapter, in September, is Treasure Island, which will have a beach bar with a signature cocktail of kaffir lime gin and coconut cream, along with food courses made with the different preserving techniques that would have been used on an 18th-century ship: all the items will be salted, pickled, cured, or smoked. There will also be actors costumed as characters from the book, such as Long John Silver, who will lead guests to discover a surprise hidden canapé before taking their seats.  

photo courtesy of Literary Hour

 


To become completely immersed in parties from other eras, go here.

To sip mesmerizing cocktails that accompany immersive experiences, click here.

To read about AR and VR innovations enhancing immersions, try here.

To learn how to throw interactive events of your own, head here.


For another unique experience, head to Fernet-Branca

Kate Mooney is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. You can find her work in publications like Jezebel, Vice, Lifehacker, and the Observer, among others. Read more at kate-mooney.com.

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