It's hard to talk about Ultraviolet without divulging a few spoilers, so if you're keen to go and want to experience it tabula rasa, then don't read any further. Just go to their website and book your seats. For the rest of you, here's a little taste...
Ultraviolet's first menu, UV-A, can be traced all the way back to Pairet's days at Jade on 36. If you ever dined at Jade when he was running the kitchen, you'll inevitably encounter a few familiar dishes, like his "can't quit foie gras" or his "truffle soup burnt bread" here.
It was an understandable decision. There were already enough volatile variables involved in putting a place like Ultraviolet together. You need at least one constant in the equation, and Pairet has spent years perfecting these recipes. He could probably make them blindfolded.
UV-B, however, is a departure from all of that. With the distinct exception of one dish, none of this menu has been seen in either of his other Shanghai restaurants.
It's a diverse menu, but there is a thematic unity to a lot of the ingredients from course to course. He loves lime, for instance. It appears in a fine chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves in a very creative and elaborately made Paloma "cocktail". He incorporates it with ginger in a savory chocolate foie gras tartine. He laces a North African-inspired veal shank with a dose of salted lime that's just amazing. It conjured up in my mind these strange Proustian memories of lime-flavored Kool-Aid.
In several instances he plays around with themes of appearance and deception. Dishes aren't always what they seem. Some dishes are identical in appearance and completely different in taste. Dinner at one point even turns into a brain teaser, a match game of sorts.
The menu showcases a host of new cooking techniques as well. Pairet's created his own version of instant noodles. I'll leave the noodle part as a surprise, but I love the fact that he's made his very own dehydrated soup powder. It even comes to you in one of those sealed foil packets.
At another point they convert the entire dining room into a cherry orchard. The table is topped with astroturf. Birds are chirping. Wind rouses the branches and leaves overhead. Someone's playing a radio, occasionally scanning through various AM stations searching for tunes. Out comes this translucent brick of aspic that's studded with a colorful melange of fennel tips and citrus peels. Because, you know, it's a picnic. There is always room for Jell-O at a picnic, right? It's propped up on its side, back-lit, so it glows like a stained glass window. They cut the brick open to reveal a cod fillet. I know it sounds weird. That's because it is. But it's delicious. The sweet scent of citrus and herbs fills the room. I had to ask if it was coming from the food or the fragrance dispersion devices overhead. The only response I got was coy laughter. And I suppose that's kind of the point: Sensation is sensation. It doesn't matter what induces it, only that it's pleasurable.
So is it better than UV-A? No. But this isn't a zero-sum game. They're both great for different reasons. Both menus are structured similarly. Their respective plots, for lack of a better word, develop along a common trajectory, but their narratives are almost completely different. UV-B features fewer, but larger, courses; you'll still walk out plenty full. There's one minor drawback, however: If you've already experienced UV-A, the audio-visual elements of UV-B may not have the same magic, the same element of surprise, to them. That's hardly a deal breaker, though. It's still quite well done. There are lots of clever little in-jokes and references, plenty of theatrics and a generous helping of camp. It is, without a doubt, still loads of fun. Most importantly, the food is still spot on, with plenty of surprises in its own right.
Of course, if you've never been to Ultraviolet, all of this is moot; it's all new to you. Book a seat for either one. Rest assured, you won't be disappointed.