Sublimotion, the World’s Most Dazzling and Possibly Most Expensive

THE FIRST RULE ABOUT Sublimotion is… you do not talk about Sublimotion.

Actually it’s not, but it could—and perhaps should—be. If you’ve never heard of it, Sublimotion is a genre-bending immersive evening of illusion, performance, technology and projections, all centered around a multi-course dinner created by Michelin-two-star chef Paco Roncero. Recently decamped from its original home in Ibiza to the Mandarin Oriental Jumeira for its second winter season in Dubai, it’s bringing all of its mind-bending spectacle with it, serving only 12 diners at a time.

The price is mind-bending, too. At AED 5,000 (approximately US$1,400) per person, it’s a serious investment. Nonetheless, it’s often booked out. But what are you getting for the cost of an intercontinental flight?

Setting the stage

Sublimotion Dubai

“Immersive” is one of the most over-used words in hospitality right now, but in the case of Sublimotion, it’s completely on point. At the risk of spoiling the surprise for those considering going, there are a few things worth knowing – although there are many, many others that we’re not going to touch on. Surprise is key to the Sublimotion experience.

At times, you will have no idea what’s going on. The beginning of the evening, as you enter the dining room, feels like an as yet unseen episode of Black Mirror. There’s a stark white table surrounded by office chairs in the center of what is ostensibly a dimly lit, empty room, but which will soon be covered with constantly changing projections.

Waiters wear jumpsuits—part Money Heist, part Squid Game—and there’s a sense of anticipation and nervous excitement. At times it’s almost disconcerting. Something made me jump, and the waiter leaned in behind me and whispered, “Don’t be scared,” which itself was part comforting, part terrifying.

Each course is centered on a different scenario: it might be under the sea, in an airplane with food served on a tray, or in the Metaverse. And each scenario is as unexpected as the next.

From prehistory to future-defying tech

Sublimotion Dubai

As remarkable as the innovations and technology are, creative director Eduardo Gonzales of Vega Factory, who launched Sublimotion in Ibiza in 2014 with Roncero, takes it back to the very basics.

“All social gatherings are centered on a table and food. It’s an ancestral ritual, it’s prehistoric,” says Gonzales. “Sublimotion is a restaurant where the principal activity is to share our table with friends,” which is downplaying in the extreme. But he’s right. At its heart, this is a dinner, albeit a dazzling one.

Roncero agrees. “The show enhances what’s on the plate,” he says. “That’s the magic. To think otherwise would be a question of ego as a chef.”

It all sounds so simple. But behind that simplicity is a whole cast of characters that goes far beyond those who cook and serve the food. Sublimotion’s creative team not only includes Gonzales and Roncero, but also illusionists, psychologists, entertainment specialists and tech experts. In Dubai, the on-the-ground team numbers 32, including both kitchen and service teams, with many roles overlapping. You’re likely to have your food served by a chef… although you’re very unlikely to realize.

Caviar, kaleidoscopes and VR 

Sublimotion Dubai

There’s a fine line between creating a thrilling atmosphere, and ensuring that the diners still focus on the food.

“The storyline is the most important thing, and then the idea is that everything flows as one,” says Roncero. “The dish should enhance the scene, and the scene should enhance the dish. From there, we make avant-garde cuisine with a traditional base.”

Caviar and Laurent-Perrier champagne kick off the evening, positioned within their own constantly shifting projections. Some dishes are served at the table, others descend from the ceiling. One is presented inside a kaleidoscope, and it took me a few minutes to work out how to eat it—the spoon in front of me needed to be extended to reach the bottom of the “plate”. Another is served within the Metaverse, a world-first according to Gonzales.

While technology is key to the experience of Sublimotion, there are elements of classical theater and mechanical effects, too. From the host who serenades diners to drapes inspired by kabuki stages, the combination of traditional and futuristic keeps the excitement going.

But this is not a cabaret, or dinner-with-a-show. “In a cabaret, there’s a table and a stage with a show that you have to watch. The gastronomy and the show go in two parallel lines,” Gonzales says. In Sublimotion, those lines are blurred to such an extent that without the food there is no show, and without the show, there is no food.

To infinity and beyond

Sublimotion Dubai

Sublimotion’s innovations have been noticed far beyond the food and beverage industry. In 2018, Roncero and Gonzales were invited by NASA to participate in the Cross-Industry Innovation Summit at the Houston Space Center. They were there to explore how to make eating in space more pleasurable for the astronauts.

“One of the saddest things in the world is to eat alone,” Gonzales says, and it’s the same in space. “In the space station, the astronauts’ food comes out of a tube in the wall, and no one is allowed to eat alone. Even if it’s eating through a tube, when you’re sharing that experience with a companion it’s that ancestral ritual again; it’s back to the prehistoric.”

It’s that sense of sharing something so simple turned into the extraordinary that Roncero wants guests to feel. “During your time at Sublimotion, I would like you to completely escape from the outside world, to focus your five senses on the experience you are about to live. Relax, release stress, anxiety and adrenaline so that when you leave, you feel much better and happy. The moments of micro-happiness that we live are what really make it all worthwhile.”

Roncero and Gonzales are looking to the future to create the next evolution of Sublimotion. “In 50 years, you’ll be experiencing Sublimotion through contact lenses. We won’t need projectors anymore,” says Gonzales.

And while that may feel a long way away, spend an evening at Sublimotion, and it already feels like you’re tasting the future.; AED 5,000 per person including unlimited premium beverages, although there’s a non-alcoholic option at AED 3,500, which includes soft drinks and mocktails; through May 1, 2023, with two daily seatings at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

All photos courtesy of Sublimotion.

By Nicola Chilton

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