What, exactly, would you expect from one of the world’s most expensive dinners? Gold-covered steaks? The most exclusive caviar?
Well, take whatever expectations you have and leave them at the door before entering Sublimotion.
The famed Ibiza-born dining experience is back in Dubai for a six-month pop-up at the Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, and this time it has even more outlandish surprises in store. The concept is the brainchild of chef Paco Roncero, whose eponymous Madrid restaurant boasts two Michelin stars.
At Dh5,000 per seat (with drinks, Dh3,500 without), Sublimotion is known as the “world’s most expensive restaurant”, and while there is plenty to say about what’s on the menu, it’s about far more than just the food.
Immersive dining has become something of a buzzword in the industry and is often used far too liberally. But when Sublimotion says immersive dining, it truly means it.
Capable of hosting only 12 guests per seating at one central table, the intimate experience begins with welcome drinks and canapes in a small room filled with books and vintage furniture that feels very much at odds with the neon-lit tunnel we walk through to enter it.
Bartenders decide our drinks for us, based on the tarot card we pull from the pack offered. I pull the “no rules” card, which feels fitting for the evening ahead. “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun,” it reads.
And this is when the fun truly begins. We leave the library via a dark corridor that takes us into what feels like the future — a dark room with a huge table in the centre, lit up by pulsating lights that guide each diner to their seat, where they will find their name projected on to their place setting.
Waiters and waitresses double as performers throughout the evening, serving drinks and all 10 courses in perfect synchronicity, as they seamlessly (and quite literally) transport diners, who'll move from a picnic somewhere over the rainbow in the land of Oz to a colourful Sao Paulo carnival, via an in-flight meal that channels Britney Spears’s Toxic music video.
If it sounds as though I am being cryptic, I am. Half the fun of Sublimotion is in the element of surprise, and so I don’t intend to spoil them all for you here, especially not when you’re paying Dh5,000 for the experience. But expect to be entertained and wowed in equal measure, albeit in a rather surreal manner.
The food is equally as experimental and interactive. Dishes are dropped from ceiling wires to be consumed while dangling mid-air, served on a giant Viking-style horn, and aided by VR headsets. Each course becomes more creative than the last, and builds to a fun and colourful finale — but more on that later.
As for what’s on the menu, diners should go in with an open mind. Ingredients and textures are just as out there as the experience, and while there’s no denying the quality is excellent, a few of the dishes are perhaps too experimental for my palette.
However, both main courses — a black butter sea bass and melt-in-the-mouth short rib steak — are cooked to perfection and paired with rich flavours.
The evening is rounded off with a trip to the 1980s, but not before I am treated to a special rendition of Happy Birthday by the evening’s lead performer, which is a lovely touch — so be sure to flag if you are visiting for a special occasion.
The screens are taken over by images of a revving Back to the Future-style car, disco balls become the table’s centrepiece and drinks are served in shiny Rubix Cubes as we tuck into our dessert course, which is made up of several bite-sized delicacies, from chocolate to biscuits to macarons.
So, the big question: Is it worth the hefty price tag? That depends. If you are going for the food and food alone, the answer is likely to be no. But that’s the whole point of Sublimotion, again, it’s about so much more than the food.
It’s about pushing the boundaries of the dining experience and offering guests something unique and memorable that they will be talking about for years to come — and that, it certainly achieves.
In a city as creative as Dubai, it’s rare to come away from something that truly stands out in a busy crowd, but you won’t find anything else like this in a hurry.
Sublimotion is open until May 1. There are two daily sittings, at 6.30pm and 9.30pm. More information is available at mandarinoriental.com or by calling 04 777 2250