At first, I didn’t know whether to gasp or giggle. Gliding out of the introductory Discovery room, we looked like a convocation of slow-motion dodgems.
Our so-called floating chairs (actually with hidden coasters, powered by a silent motor) had been unveiled from underneath billowing sheets accompanied by a portentous fanfare. Now they were carrying us forth on an adventure to discover “new culinary dimensions” on a “spectacular journey of the senses”, in what is billed as “the restaurant of the future”.
This was Eatrenalin, launched in November in the south-west German town of Rust, a courageous (and, at €20mn, expensive) concept that is part fine dining, part theme-park ride. It has been created by Europa-Park, one of Europe’s biggest theme parks, which attracted record visitor numbers of more than 6mn last year. Eatrenalin sits just outside the park itself, alongside the latest of its hotels, the Krønasår. The food is overseen by a serious team of chefs with CVs ranging from Noma and El Bulli to Zurich’s Dolder Grand, and led by the Spaniard Pablo Montoro.
From the exterior, Eatrenalin resembles a giant metal cube, with one eyelid propped up over an anonymous doorway. Step inside — having declared in advance any special dietary requirements — and you’re given access to a very different world.
First comes the Champagne room, where diners graze on truffles, crispy caviar and Jerusalem artichokes. From here a pre-ordained group of 16 is peeled off into the Waterfall room— yes, there’s proper falling water — assigned a chair number and introduced to Lina, the unseen “AI hostess” who gives instructions and information. After which they file through to the Discovery room, where the big reveal of the chairs takes place.
Unlike any other ride I’ve been on, each of these floating chairs is autonomous, with no tracks or rails. What follows is a slow waltz from one room to the next, each of which provides a dining experience accompanied by appropriate audiovisual effects.
The food itself was delivered in a variety of ways. Thus, in the Ocean room (with pretend rock walls and a giant video screen showing first a sea view, then sinking below the waves) a dish of scallop and lobster popped out of the chair’s tray-table, where it had been lurking all along.
In the Taste room, where our chairs tipped back to draw our attention to the graphics on the ceiling, a pencil case placed on our tray-table turned out to have four slots with four different taste pastilles, each slot lighting up in sequence, from sweet to bitter, from bitter to salty, so that we all had the same sensation at the same time. In the Universe room, we ate a main course of meltingly tender beef served with sweet potato and a brioche as black as coal, under a giant hanging globe.
In this way, our pod of 16 progressed through eight different rooms, with food and matched wine in each. Some rooms were more convincing than others: I thought the undersea visuals were so-so, but the Umami room — effectively a Japanese restaurant with animated rice fields on the walls — felt pretty authentic, with a gong announcing the service of sashimi and grapefruit, washed down with plenty of sake.
There was only one room where no food was served: the chairs file into what turns out to be the control room of a spacecraft, whose floor then starts moving in the manner of a more conventional ride. Any food on a plate might end up all over your neighbour.
Eatrenalin’s creators hope to roll it out in key cities around the world. Potential investors will have to weigh up whether the large set-up costs are justified by the economies of scale. Unlike a traditional Michelin-starred restaurant, which is unlikely to offer more than one sitting, Eatrenalin can process 190 guests an evening, at a starting price of €195 a head — and that’s a lot of word of mouth. While the standard menu includes eight courses and wine, visitors can also choose one with a selection of Laurent-Perrier champagnes, at €445 per head, or a “sommelier dinner” with fine wines at €645.
The two-hour experience passes quickly, and in the final room, Incarnation, it delivers a surprise when Lina is made flesh, played by a member of staff in a jumpsuit. After which everyone files out into the bar and tries to decide whether they’ve just experienced a feast or a fairground ride.
Andrew Eames was a guest of Eatrenalin (eatrenalin.de). For more on visiting the park, and its six themed hotels, see europapark.de
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