What do you get for £1,500? Xanthe Clay eats at the most expensive restaurant in the world

A hand prop 
The props at Sublimotion in Ibiza are as much a talking point as the food Credit: Roberto Castano 

How much would you spend on a meal out? £25? £100? Or perhaps £1,460? That’s the price of a meal for one at the restaurant touted as the world’s most expensive, Sublimotion in Ibiza.

Yes, there among the palm trees, the bikinis and the music, Sublimotion is charging €1,650 a head – service and drinks included.

What on earth could be worth so much money? A bathful of caviar at the very least. So when the opportunity to eat there came up, I had my bag packed quicker than you can say “no such thing as a free dinner”.

And yes, I wasn’t paying – it was a press preview, and I was a guest of the chef, a shy Spaniard called Paco Roncero, who already has a two-Michelin star gaff in Madrid.

Inside the windowless restaurant, housed in an unassuming white block near the airport, I took my seat – a sort of wheeled office chair – with 11 other guests (the restaurant only seats that many) around a single huge white table. Bare white walls, bare white floor, glowing with ultraviolet light, like an eerie scene from a Sixties sci-fi movie.

But as the courses came, a dozen in total, the walls and table were transformed cinematically to fit the motif of the dishes, music played and scents wafted through the room, while waiters-cum-actors played up to the themes.

The miniature vegetable garden, a course at Sublimotion Credit: Roberto Castano

In a baroque ballroom, the willowy Mistress of Ceremonies (wearing the first of four diaphanous costumes) promised us an evening of “the most complete rapture”, before the palatial surroundings vanished, replaced with a star-scape of pirouetting gems, the speakers belted out Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend, and women in tiny satin costumes danced and poured champagne.

This was the first hint of where the money went. We sipped Dom Pérignon 2009, which retails at upwards of £120 a bottle and costs £350 at Restaurant Alain Ducasse in London.

The red wine was even more exalted, the Spanish red Termanthia 2016, which is not yet generally available, but older vintages would set you back at least a couple of hundred quid.

And if the gooseberry-scented white, a Cloudy Bay Sauvignon 2017, is a mere £23 from Sainsburys (it might cost three times that on a wine list), it’s from the same stable as the other two wines, owned by the behemoth luxury goods company Moet Hennessy.

As the evening progressed, a miniature terraced vegetable garden filled the table and we scooped out teeny carrots and fennel from a soil of black olive crumb with Lilliputian spades, while birdsong played.

Then glass terrariums descended from the ceiling, each with a cactus formed of corn butter and a cracker topped with cured beef and a spicy olive cream.

The waiters spun our chairs around to Japanese izakaya bars that magically appeared at either side of the room, where chefs prepared the best dish of the night, an octopus broth with a bubble of olive oil cream that coated the palate with savoury silkiness.

We donned virtual-reality glasses to eat the “food of the future” (a cube, sorry, “pixel” of slow cooked aubergine with eel), then our seats were turned to airline-style rows, backcloths of aeroplane interiors dropped from the walls and we were offered in-flight catering of venison and deer designed by the Slovenian chef Ana Roš.

A 12-course meal at the world’s most expensive restaurant – how good could it possibly be? Credit: Roberto Castano 

And so the night meandered on, through a Mexican fiesta and a Forties nightclub, and some cabaret in the shape of a dancer writhing in an itsy-bitsy bikini – this was Ibiza, after all.

For the finale, the entire table top was splashed with a Jackson Pollock of chocolate sauces and topped with cubes of airy cake and gel, a dishless dish designed by Singaporean pastry chef Janice Wong, which left me bickering merrily with my neighbour about where my pudding ended and his began.

All tremendous fun. But was it worth the money? I asked Roncero (who visits the restaurant four times each year during its June to October run) if the pricing was just a publicity stunt. “No,” he answered emphatically. “Some journalist made a headline with it, but it’s not what we want.

We want people to focus on the food.” Tricky, given the level of gimmickry. One dish arrives on a disembodied hand reminiscent of Thing from The Addams Family.

And even with the level of staffing (26, including the pianist for the 12 guests) and the input of magician Jorge Blass, it’s still hard to see quite where the cash has been splurged. So who comes to Sublimotion? “People come from all over the world, but many of our customers are Russians.”

But it does raise the question, for those of us who aren’t oligarchs, how much should we be prepared to spend in a restaurant? It’s a delicate subject: eating out at all is out of the question for many who are struggling to put meals on the table.

A miniature cactus formed of corn butter and a cracker topped with cured beef and a spicy olive cream Credit: Roberto Castano 

But since the restaurant industry employs nearly a million people in this country, and we currently spend an average of £19 a week with them, it’s certainly a vital part of our economy.

Will Beckett, co-owner of the Hawksmoor restaurant group, which sells quality steaks and carefully made cocktails, with an average spend of £60 a head, observes that eating out is about far more than simply fuelling up. “For some people food is a passion.

For them it is perfectly legitimate to spend what other people think is a high amount, the way other people would spend money on fashion, sport or cars.” But, he agrees, “For many, £25 a head with drinks is tops. £35 is still a big ticket cost for a lot of people.”

Tot up the price of ingredients on a restaurant plate, and you may, quite rightly, conclude you could knock it up more cheaply at home. But as Beckett says, we don’t just go to eat out for the food – it’s the experience of being looked after.

What’s more, most of the costs of dining out are hidden from customers. Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, which represents the hospitality sector, reckons that “about a third of the price of your meal will go to the Government in tax – most notably VAT, but also local business rates and excise duty.”

Then there is the rising cost of ingredients, because of the exchange rate fluctuation and Brexit uncertainty. Add to that a serious staffing shortage in the UK, which is also driving up wages, and restaurant profits have fallen from an average of 10 per cent before tax to around six per cent, out of which restaurants must make loan repayments and invest in their businesses. “No wonder”, Nicholls says, “we have seen so many closures”.

Beckett is phlegmatic, as well he might be for a man who recently laughed off an incident in which a member of staff accidentally sold a £4,500 bottle of wine for a couple of hundred. He just wants to fill tables, no matter if customers spend £1,460 or £14.60.

“If you make people happy,” he says, “more people will want to come to your restaurant.”