This article was inspired by our recent family holiday in the Swiss Alps, where I came across a unique dining concept (more on this later).
As the adage goes, people want experiences, not “things”. Creating memories and unforgettable experiences is the watchword of our time. In food, this can be a venue, a theme, a style of cooking (or fusion of styles), a type of food, a campaign that “cuts through”. Something unique – at least for a while.
I have been to a New York bar where the wait staff were all twins; a restaurant in Philadelphia where the courses were bookended by opera singers in full flow; a Swedish restaurant in London where everything, yes everything, on the menu was flavoured with liquorice (much loved in Scandinavia); and a revolving bar in New Orleans featuring an actual merry-go-round which has been revolving since 1949.
Quirky themes can come (and often) go, particularly some of the more out-there ones. Novelty will only get you so far; the food, beverage and service offer has to deliver and the business model has to be profitable. As a case in point, Dublin’s first cat café in Smithfield (a cat lounge with coffee and real cats) while fabulously original recently had to close its doors due to significant running costs.
The last two decades has also seen plenty of new and interesting venues in Ireland and beyond with banks being converted into bars, double decker buses put into service as casual restaurants and deconsecrated churches turned into upscale eateries.
It’s fun, it’s different, it appeals.
7 Unique Dining Experiences to Try Before you Die
(1) In the Mountains
Fondue is synonymous with all things Swiss. And in the Saas-Fee ski resort in the Swiss Alps during the winter months a quite unique fondue experience is offered on board your very own gondola (cable car) which slowly traverses the mountains while you dunk your bread and down Valais wine. Sublime!
Offered once every few weeks during the season about 30 gondolas are in action for this ride with a difference.
(2) In the Water
There are a few undersea restaurants – mostly in the Maldives – however the Conrad owned Ithaa was the world’s first and is perhaps the most impressive. Ithaa Undersea Restaurant allows you to dine luxuriously five metres below the surface of the Indian ocean, in an “aquatic wonderland” with amazing 360° views of reef and marine life.
(3) In the Trees
The Treehouse Restaurant in Alnwick Gardens, Northumberland features wooden walkways, twinkling lights and a very unique dining experience.
Alnwick Gardens are one of northern England’s most beautiful attractions, rejuvenated and reimagined by Jane Percy, the current Duchess of Northumberland who took the gardens on as a project when her husband inherited the estate in the mid 90’s. Uniquely there is also a Poison Garden, which features 100 lethal plants and is used for drug education.
(4) In a Cave
Grotta Palazzese is an exclusive restaurant created inside a natural cave. Located in Puglia, Italy the restaurant takes its name from the cave and has been used for parties and banquets since 1700, as evidenced by a 1783 watercolor by Jean Louis Desprez.
(5) In a Tram
Although not strictly unique as there are similar cafes in other cities, The Tram Cafe in Dublin has made this list because of its fascinating history.
Originally built in the US city of Philadelphia in 1902, it started life as a horse drawn tram, then spending most of its working life in Lisbon as a refitted electric tram from the 1920’s to the late 1970’s. It was then moved to a tram museum in Wales and finally ended up in a field in Co Cavan where it was discovered by its current owner, refurbished and installed as a full café in 2016 on Wolfetone Square, Central Dublin.
(6) In the Ice
The Ice Restaurant is the world’s only ice restaurant located precisely on the Arctic Circle in Finland’s Snowman Winter Resort. The Ice Restaurant features incredibly beautiful ice sculptures and a menu created from local ingredients.
(7) In the Air
The brainchild of Hakuna Matata, an agency specialising in gourmet pleasures, and The Fun Group, which has expertise in amusement park installations deploying cranes, Dinner in the Sky is a flying dinner table which first took to the skies in 2006. Since then, the concept has criss-crossed the skies of 45 countries in Europe, Australia, Japan, India, the Middle East, South Africa, South America and North America, and even China.
Not just featuring exclusive dinners, the events for up to 30 (carefully strapped-in) guests have experienced unique themes such as a Beach Bar, Opera and Poker Matches and some of the world’s best chefs including Heston Blumenthall. And, if you are so inclined, you can also exchange vows or host a business meeting in a highly original location at an altitude of 50 metres.
So no, the sky is not the limit…