Lûmé puts virtual reality on the menu for Taste of Melbourne

When chef-owner Shaun Quade and partners transformed a former burlesque club into Lûmé's rule-bending restaurant, the aim was to deliver multi-sensory experiences in a playful space.

"I see Lûmé as a theatre, as opposed to just a restaurant," he says, with a mischievous tone. "I cop a bit of s--t for that, and we don't want to turn it into [a theatre restaurant like] Dracula's or anything like that. Not yet anyway, we'll see how business goes."

Invention requires dedication, passion and plenty of time for experimentation, so Quade is always on the lookout for new technology that will help him improving the dining experience.  

Now he's set to introduce virtual reality tech into his particular brand of fine dining, launching at the Taste of Melbourne festival which kicks off on Thursday, November 10.

Dining in a digital age

Inspired by Spanish restaurant El Celler de Can Roca's El Somni experience, which combines opera singers with video art on immersive screens and projected light, he's looking to wow Taste visitors with Lûmé's Looking Glass virtual reality experience.

Using Samsung's virtual reality headsets and matching headphones alongside 360 degree immersive video captured by Catalyst VR, Quade will transport Taste-goers to a private farm that grows unique produce he's hand-picked, all without ever leaving the festival site.

"Virtual reality is the perfect medium for me to showcase where produce and my ideas come from," Quade says. "I'm constantly out at the farms, picking stuff and I wanted people to actually see that. What better way than to take them there with you, helping me pick stuff? We serve 15 courses on our tasting menu and literally hundreds of people go into making that, not just here at Lûmé, but also the producers and the truck drivers."

Augmented sensory experience

Tobias Manderson-Galvin, director of Richmond-based MKA Theatre, will act as host, shepherding diners into a shipping container that will recreate a corner of the original South Melbourne restaurant.

Guests will then put on the headset and headphones and be transported to the Yarra Valley, where Quade will forage from fragrant Meyer lemon trees, as he talks them through the process behind a special dish he's keeping close to his chest for now.  

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Increasing the intensity of the experience, diners will be spritzed with a specially made perfume, recreating the smell of fresh cut grass and the lemons.

As people explore the 3D farm environment, they'll also encounter a perception-bending trick as the sky fills with 2D screens displaying images from the real restaurant, like magic windows into that space.

Thankfully for hungry stomachs, it's not all virtual. When the lights go up in the Albert Park container, with wait staff ready to serve up the dish Quade's just talked you through, wine-matched, as soon as the headsets come off.

Taste and technology

An ambitious project, it's no one-off gimmick, with Quade intending to bring the VR experience back to the South Melbourne mothership so Lûmé patrons can enjoy the trip again and again. He's also looking at introducing robotics designed by visual artists into the dining room.

Lûmé's business and communications manger Veronica Fil is the major tech-head, and the pair bounce all sorts of ideas off each other for what comes next.

"We have these conversation where I say, 'I wish I could so do something like this,' and she's like, 'well, yeah, that exists already.' She's kind of been the catalyst for using a lot of different things at the restaurant."

The pair have a side business called WeNeverSleep that specialises in tech-driven, immersive events with impressive lighting and visual art components. They're increasingly feeding that stuff back into Lûmé.

"We want people to come here and have fun, rather than it be a snobby restaurant where they feel like they can't touch anything," Quade says. "That allows us to relax people and then we can start messing with their head a bit. That's pretty much where we are going and VR certainly fits in there."