Australia’s first AI-generated restaurant has opened for business and, as spectacular as its artificially-driven elements may be, it was the human touch that surpassed all expectations.
Artificial Intelligence has been the buzzword of the year so far, with the launch and wildfire-spread of ChatGPT sparking utopianism, scaremongering, and downright doomsday discourse in equal measure. While AI is, undeniably, already having massive impacts on every corner of our common culture — from its incipient ability to read minds, its popping-up in every TV and movie franchise going, as well as the tragic loss of life at the hands of our supposed disembodied overlords — my visit to Australia’s first AI restaurant left me feeling surprisingly optimistic about humanity’s chances.
However, this isn’t to say that my encounter with AI wasn’t a fascinating one, so let me explain how it came to be: earlier this month Sydney-based hospitality group, Applejack, unveiled the winner of its nationwide competition which challenged Aussies to explore the potential of AI technology in the restaurant industry by submitting a restaurant concept that, if selected as the lucky winner, would be developed with the help of AI tools.
WATCH: Here’s how our visit went.
Stefanie Wee, from the glorious city of Perth, emerged victorious amongst hundreds of entrants from across the country, with her concept ‘Luminary‘, which uses AI-programmed lighting and sound to reflect naturally-occurring illuminations in the organic world. Hosted by the long-esteemed RAFI in North Sydney, Luminary has been transformed from an abstract concept into a weeklong real-life dining experience running from Saturday, 29 July, to this Saturday, 5 August 2023.
Another crucial aspect of the Luminary concept was the invocation of the four classical elements — earth, air, fire, and water — to integrate innovative LED installations into this groundbreaking dining experience and help assemble a carefully curated menu of food and drink that aligns with Wee’s overarching concept. A dream team consisting of Applejack’s ‘Director of Culinary’, Patrick Friesen, and RAFI’s Executive Chef, Matias Cilloniz, joined forces to craft dishes that reflect these four elements whilst simultaneously embodying the fresh, seasonal flavours that the Sydney coastline is so famous for.
Entrees are all water-themed dishes, featuring locally sourced seafood creatively served on dry ice. We tried the crystalline scallop with ponzu, sea grapes, caper leaves, and seaweed as well as the smoked kingfish with pomegranate, radish and nasturtium, which we enjoyed alongside a small appetiser of freshly-baked pita bread served with the best hummus I’ve ever eaten. Both the entrees were incredibly light, fresh, and defined by a delicate dance of flavours that kicked off a long overdue conversion to seafood for this once narrow-minded writer.
Next up were the fire- and earth-themed dishes, which made up the mains and vegetable-based side dishes respectively. The mains are all cooked over charcoal and presented atop smouldering coals, burning bay leaves, and torched paperbark, while the sides combine sustainably sourced and locally grown produce. We paired the bioluminescent calamari, butter beans and black pudding, as well as the coral trout, new season olive oil, caper leaves, fermented chilli and lemon, with the grilled zucchini that was finished with crumbled pistachio, mint, and stracciatella cheese.
Perfectly cooked as the calamari was, it was the black pudding that really shone in that particular dish, providing a rich and earthy flavour that contrasted oh-so-well with the brackishness of the squid. Meanwhile, the trout was flawless — flaky and soft — coming alive when doused in fermented chilli and lemon. When things were at risk of getting a little too spicy, the stracciatella served as the perfect coolant while the zucchini added a much-needed crunch to the whole mouthful. Once again, seafood has never been my go-to, but we ordered this combination on the recommendation of our delightful waitress Alyssa, and I’m very glad we listened to her words of wisdom.
To round out proceedings, we ordered both air-themed desserts on Luminary’s menu, which experiment with molecular techniques to create culinary foams, boasting bold and decadent flavour profiles. The coconut espuma with pearls, pineapple, and mezcal was cooling, light, and complex; undoubtedly the highbrow option for finishing this meal. However, the whipped chocolate mousse, salted caramel, and hazelnut tart was the real showstopper — if you’re a chocolate person, this is one you really mustn’t miss.
As amazing as all the food was, it was the specially crafted cocktails that really set Luminary apart from so many other pop-up experiences. Created by RAFI’s Bar Manager, Cameron Freno, and Applejack Group Beverage Manager, Joe Worthington, the series of illuminated cocktails focus on minimizing food waste by utilizing botanicals, imperfect fruits, and reworking food scraps into unique drinks.
We tried three of the four on offer and while the mezcal and pineapple masterpiece — ‘The Hilton’ — and the Four Pillars and rhubarb sensation — ‘The Botanical Beet’ — were both well worth writing home about, it was the Gospel Rye and blood orange ‘Ember Glow’ that really stole our hearts. In fact, it may be the best whiskey cocktail I’ve ever had…
All of this is to say that we had a wonderful time at Luminary, and I encourage anyone with a moment to spare this week to head along. While the AI-generated elements made for a novelly constructed menu and a one-of-a-kind ambience, it was the inimitably human touch that went into the food and drink that will make this a dinner to remember for quite some time. As mass unemployment looms, line chefs and mixologists should fear not; their craft is safe with me.