Higher Order: A place where dining becomes a sensory experience
It was the ‘culinary hallucination’ that caught our eye through a targeted social media campaign. Beulah’s Hanover House in collaboration with restaurateur and chef Scott Pickett have created an experience which brings together theatrical performance, exploratory dining, and experience design to form an out-of-this-world immersive dining experience. The Melbourne FreeState team were lucky enough to be able to experience ‘Higher Order’ in December last year. It did not disappoint.
Like many new experience events, the entrance and beginnings are being expanded to start beyond what is normally understood as the event space, to entice and encourage consumers to explore. When walking up to the Hanover House building we were surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the busy afternoon traffic of south Melbourne, which quickly disappeared when entering the car park ceremonial welcome space. An electric atmosphere was created with a warm pink glow from neon lights projecting onto the walls of the car park, blue laser lights from walls to ceilings, subtle smoke fog and performers holding strip lights ushering us into the space.
Our tasting experience began in a transitional space, where we were transported into a floating garden space with a welcome cocktail at the back of the smoke-filled room. Passing by floating round gardens, which were filled with herbs and vegetables, we were – with the help of that cocktail and the surprise of everything so far – able to cleanse our minds in preparation of everything that that was to come.
Ascending to level five of Hanover House, the bright neon-coloured lights and smokey fog continued from the entrance, however with the added introduction of sound, the music, movement, and chatter making my eyes move from side to side trying to take in my surroundings. The rooms’ free flowing layout allowed us to move through the space and create our own immersive journey through the Higher Order menu:
1) Beginning in the Tea Ceremony Room, we were welcomed with a golden clothed performer upon a raised floor tier. By offering a black stone to the performer, we were able to cleanse our palettes with a hot green tea and watch as they used the stones as an offering or tribute through their performance.
2) From there we entered a dark room – the Art Room – where a sense of peace and tranquillity was created through rippling water and a calming dome of light projecting light onto a performer placed in the middle of the room. As we made our way round the circumference of the room, we were presented with drawers in the wall, which opened and closed, presenting the dish of the room. A single scallop – on top of a sea-shell was offered to us to take and eat with a bamboo fork. The room’s underwater feel perfectly introduced the dish.
3) At the end of the hallway – which connected to each of the rooms – was the only open ‘room’ of the event. The ‘Ritual Room’ held a performer dressed in an all-white mermaid costume. Positioned around the performer was large sea rocks made from sheer fabric and wire covered by a projection of rippled water. This space again perfectly constructed an atmosphere which connected to the dish on offer, a single Sydney Rock oyster with Makweng Pepper and Finger Lime.
4) We then made our way into the Sustain Room, where we were presented with a round table topped with scientific equipment of glass beakers and cylinders filled with bugs and moss. This room gave a more futuristic food fusion tone. The space created this futuristic nature through projects on the curtained walls. Projecting ‘THE FUTURE IS NOW’ and ‘INSECTS ARE ON THE MENU’, prompting a discussion about different food sources, insects being one of them. The room offered a puffed mushroom cracker with Nori, avocado and green ant moose. I liked this room as it summed up the event’s main theme: the future of dining, presenting how in the future different and sometimes unthinkable ingredients and methods may need to be used to create meals.
5) Once leaving Sustain, we weaved our way through the crowd to make our way to the Nourish Room. Here, the main design feature of the room was a cluster of strings coming from the roof of the room to the table. At first sight an interesting piece of design, the more I thought about it, especially after collecting the food offering from the room, the more it made me see the string as strings of noodle which was a key element of the dish of the room. A fascinating uncomplicated design element which made the room stand out to me.
6) The second last room of our dining experience was the Immersion Room, which for us was the standout experience of the event. Upon entry, we went into a large human-sized bamboo steamer. An amazing atmosphere was created with lighting and smoke, red hues of light came from the top of the steamer, making me look up and into the woven design created as a roof to the steamer. A rotating disk offered us our own bamboo steamer with two perfectly cooked bao buns inside. It dawned on all of us that, like our dish, we too were being cooked: we were giant steamed bao buns. Offering tables where we were able to stop and ponder the experience, this was by far my favourite room of the event, the creative confusion perfectly done.
7) Making our way to the final room, the Convenience Room, we entered through a red glowing walkway, where we were presented with two wall hangings with dried and uncooked ingredients. Pressing a button, the uncooked ingredients spun away to be replaced by a container filled with the exact ingredients cooked into a delicious miso soup. Once again, I loved the confusion the room entailed, the sheer surprise of the raw ingredients being replaced by the ready-to-eat meal. Head scratching stuff.
Making our way out of the room, we sat in the communal hallway. While enjoying our last dish, we reflected on the whole experience and how it was a true immersive futuristic dining experience, one that took us through a journey from raw foods in their natural habitats to cooked food and the human technologies that will enable new types of dining.
Higher Order was an experience which I will not be forgetting any time soon. The attention to detail of the whole event experience was truly incredible. The way that the creators were able to develop an atmosphere which continued from the first point of introduction to the point at which we spilt back out into the street was nothing shy of spectacular. The key to its success was how each room had its own story, which connected to the food on offer in the specific room, and yet was still able to form an overall connection with the other rooms. Attendees were able to take their own journey through the space, making it their own experience, often completely different to those that followed. Higher Order is everything it said it was – and more. An experience to remember.
Written by Dominique Russell, Edited by Dave Waddell
For more information, see Higher Order