Sugar Mountain review: just what was the Sensory restaurant?

Published:  January 29, 2016
Katia Pase

Sugar Mountain’s inaugural ‘Sensory’ restaurant promised to be an immersive, multi-sensory dining experience – a collaboration between three different creative groups each at the top of their game. With food by Melbourne tapas bar Bomba, a soundtrack by Cut Copy, and lighting and visual design by Tin & Ed, Sensory succeeded in creating a butt-tonne of suspense during the meal, but didn’t quite capitalise on a few key opportunities that would have made it a truly unique experience.

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Sensory restaurant. Photo by Jayden Ostwald.

Sensory restaurant. Photo by Tin & Ed.

Sensory restaurant. Photo by Tin & Ed.

Diners who purchased the $55 add-on ticket were greeted outside the temporary restaurant by their table host, who instructed us “not to eat if not told to” and to “scull your wine if a course feels like it’s finishing”.  Inside, Tin & Ed abandoned their joyful penchant for colour, and instead channelled Victor Vasarely and his black and white Op Art. The dark room was contained by mirrored walls, with black-and-white props and a slow-turning, oversized mobile centrepiece. The ten or so round tabletops featured a thick black spiral, adding to the impression of a spinning infinity created by the mirrored walls and repetitive movement. The first course (a rice paper crisp topped with tomato, manchego and jamon for the non-vegetarians, atop a paper cup of vermouth; a shot glass of gazpacho) was revealed in sync across each table by the polished waitstaff, from beneath conical cloches. That these cloches were made from thin, glossy card evoked the rushed cheapness of a kid’s birthday party accessories. A material letdown for such a grand moment during the meal’s choreography.

As the courses changed, so did the tempo of the ambient soundtrack and the black and white canvas of the room flooded with different colours. For starters the room lights bled red and our waiters filled each glass with a generous measure of Spanish white. For mains the room turned to deep-ocean green as we marvelled at how damn tasty the dehydrated eggplant (or the “dirt” component of a quinoa “garden” salad) was. And while the syncopation of the waitstaff with the lights with the pre-recorded soundtrack created a strange theatre, the absence of an audio performance stunted any real drama.

As my table mates and I finished our mains and looked round the busy room to check if we were doing anything wrong – if we were throwing the timing off – our waiter brought round our desserts in test tubes and instructed us to “suck”. Filled with raspberry jelly, white foam mousse and pop rocks, this really was a shot to the senses that snapped us out of our wonderland trance before we headed back into the sunlight and crowds.

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Prue Stent x Honey Long x Clare Longley. Photo by Ryan Wheatley.

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Sugar Mountain’s audiovisual gallery. Photo by Rebecca Houlden.

Elsewhere in the festival, the pearly, pink and wet collaboration between local artists and friends, Prue Stent, Honey Long and Clare Longley, confused and surprised wandering patrons. A hotbox room housed audiovisual installations including an hypnotic collaboration between choreographer Yahna Fookes and film director Martha Zakarya, though Nanotak’s hyped new work Hoshi was a no show.

Melbourne architecture and design studio Sibling did a wonderful, understated job of the main stage with an arch of tightly-looped, white pool noodles framing the stage, while Angie Pai’s golden mirror mosaic glittered across the gravel from the back of the car park stage.

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Main stage design by Sibling. Photo by Jayden Ostwald.

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Carpark stage by Angie Pai. Photo by Jayden Ostwald.

Sugar Mountain bills itself as a “music and art” festival, though the experience of the art part mostly felt supplementary to the music. But as communicated by the festival’s dynamic brand identity and website, Sugar Mountain is a leader in multidisciplinary celebration, the festival feeling both boutique and tightly curated.

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