Eating in the dark

I couldn't take a photo... so you'll have to make do with this artist's impression

Friday was Amy‘s birthday. I probably shouldn’t share which birthday.

For her birthday, we went to London for the weekend, doing touristy things like the London Eye and shopping stuff like Selfridges and Liberty. For her birthday meal, I thought of trying something a bit different and booked us a table at Dans Le Noir. It’s an unusual restaurant, so I thought it was worth sharing a little about the experience.

I know I tend to ramble, so let me get a short version out of the way: you have to eat in the dark, and it’s pretty intense.

With that done, here is a longer version:

We arrived, and were immediately relieved of anything which could make light. Lighters, cameras, mobile phones… even anything that glows (like a watch with a phosphorescent dial) it all went into a locker and we were left with the key.

Then we got some time at the bar with the restaurant menu. There were four choices: meat, seafood, vegetarian and surprise. There were no more details than that. We just chose which of the four we wanted, and how many courses we wanted. But we didn’t know what food we would be getting. Even the bar has a similar line – we saw boards with the prices of “surprise wine” and “surprise cocktails”.

Once we’d chosen, we were taken to the entrance of the restaurant room, where we met our waitress for the evening, Lisa. Lisa – as are all of the waiters – is blind. She led us into the restaurant, through the couple of black-out curtains, to our table. We went in single file – Lisa leading the way, Amy following with her hand on Lisa’s shoulder, and me behind with my hand on Amy’s shoulder.

You need to be physically led to the table, because once you’re inside, it’s not just dark, it’s black. Completely black. Pitch black. Black without any chinks or spots of light. It wasn’t just dim or murky, it was so black that I couldn’t see my hand right in front of my eyes.

I’m labouring this point because I wasn’t prepared for just what that would be like. I’m never in complete pitch black – there’s always some light source around, even at night. Even when I shut my eyes to sleep, I can see light through my eyelids. So this was very intense.

My sense of direction is poor at the best of times. In the dark, I was useless. By the time I was sat in my seat, I couldn’t have pointed at the door we had come in through. I had completely lost my bearings. I couldn’t tell how big the room we were in was. I couldn’t tell you if we were in the middle of it, or at one end. It was – have I mentioned this already? – completely dark.

It was noisy, too. It was hard to tell how big the room was, or how many people were there, because there was a lot of loud conversation. It’s pretty friendly, though. The tables are very close together, and I was sat opposite Amy, with other couples on either side of us. It’s not the place for a quiet, private conversation. You end up chatting and joking along with the people you’re sat with.

Drinking was kind of fun, once I found my glass. You can pour your drinks yourself if you’re feeling brave, and you get a crash course in how to put the tip of your finger into the glass while pouring so that you can feel when it is full. I found that, without being able to see the level in my glass, I drank faster than I normally would.

The food was good. It’s quite strange putting food in your mouth with no idea of what to expect. It doesn’t arrive cut into bite-sized mouthfuls, so I spent a while trying to use a knife and fork without being able to see what I was doing or where the food was. That was entirely unsuccessful. But it’s dark, so I could just cheat and use my fingers and noone could see!

I’ve read that in the absence of your sight, your other senses are enhanced, and so the increased sense of taste and smell changes the dining experience. I’m not sure if I really experienced that… I certainly concentrated more on the taste of food than I normally would (I tend to be very strongly led by what food looks like), so perhaps there is something in it. At any rate, it was fun trying to work out what it all was.

After we’d finished our meal, we were led back out to the welcoming area where we’d arrived. We were led out at the same time as one of the couples we had sat next to during the meal. And seeing them for the first time, they didn’t look anything like I’d expected! Age, hair colour, face… I’d guessed it all completely wrong. (As an aside, if they don’t do it already, it’d be a great place for blind dates – it is kinda cool to make your first impressions of someone before you see what they look like).

Once in the light, we also got to see pictures and a description of our meal – a chance to see if we’d correctly identified the food. I hadn’t. What we thought were strawberries were actually figs. That said, I’d correctly identified courgettes. I hate courgette. But overall, much like with our dining companions, the food didn’t look anything like the picture I’d built in my head.

I’d gone for the ‘meat’ option – I wish I’d gone for the surprise menu, the main course for which that night turned out to kangaroo and zebra. I should’ve been more adventurous.

This isn’t really meant to be a review, but I would say that I recommend going to Dans Le Noir. It would be massively patronising to suggest that now I have an idea of what it would be like to be blind – we were only in there for an hour and a half, most of which time was spent sat down while people brought us food. On the whole, it’s about being a fun and exciting experience. Even so, it did make me imagine for a moment how scary it would be if I lost my sight. And the experience is probably not for everyone. One of the people sat next to us while we ate found the whole thing massively uncomfortable, and considered leaving a few times. (She didn’t leave early, in the end, and I hope she was glad about that).

You do have to put your faith in your waiter, but I found that easy to do – it was seriously impressive how they found their way around the restaurant so quickly, bringing the right meal straight to the right table, presumably knowing the layout of the place so well that they can find each person easily.

What do people think? Tempted to give it a try?

3 Responses to “Eating in the dark”

  1. […] This post was Twitted by lemayp […]

  2. […] short, I loved it. Like when we went to Dans Le Noir, it’s good to do something you’ve done loads of times (like going for a meal, or going […]