Dining in the Dark
On Saturday night we had the experience of eating at Dans Le Noir? (that’s not a question, by the way, the punctuation is part of the restaurant’s name!). And I have to say, it was quite an evening. Dans Le Noir? is a concept restaurant based on the idea of experiencing a disability – in this case the restaurant is completely dark, and you eat your meal as through you are blind. The restaurant (there are several locations in major cities around the world) serves multiple purposes of 1) providing a meal for the diner, 2) providing employment for the disabled (all the waiters are blind), and 3) allowing sighted guests to experience a disability, in what is a rather intense evening.
We arrived at the restaurant at about 6:45 for a 7pm seating. In the lounge there are a few comfy couches for waiting, but the walls are plastered with advertisements and articles (for and about itself!) so it felt a bit more like a divey-bar-cum-music-hall. Along one wall are lockers, much like you’d find at a gym or swimming pool. We were instructed to leave all our belongings (purse, mobile phones, blackberries – anything that could create light) in the lockers. While this makes sense, the lockers are quite utilitarian and ugly. We were also asked to order from the menu, although “menu” is a generous term. You can choose from the red menu (meat), green menu (vegetarian), blue menu (fish), or white (chef’s surprise); and you can choose if you want 2 or 3 courses. While they do ask if you have any allergies, they don’t ask for preferences. I decided to go for the red menu, and we splurged on 3 courses and a bottle of wine.
Promptly at 7pm we were escorted through a set of curtains and down a dark hallway, where we met Roberto, our host for the evening. (From the advertisements and articles posted in the lobby I knew that Roberto had trained as a professional chef before losing his sight.) While friendly, Roberto didn’t bother to learn our names, although we were asked to remember his. Placing my right hand on Roberto’s shoulder, and Alex’s right hand on my shoulder, we conga-lined through some more curtains and into the main dining hall. I wanted to take a picture of the space, but obviously couldn’t, but luckily I was able to find this picture online that gives a pretty good impression of what it looked like:
Immediately upon being seating we were given our bottle of wine, but I can’t tell you what kind it was. I think it was a Sauvignon Blanc, but my palate isn’t nearly well-developed enough to know! We barely had time to figure out how to pour the wine without too much spillage before Roberto was back with the starter. While we were given cutlery, and I made a valiant attempt to use it, we quickly decided that it was much easier (if higher on the ick factor) to probe the plate with our fingers. I could tell it was some kind of salad, and I detected a some sort of a crostini with a mushy-pasty topping.
It seemed only a few minutes later that our main course was ready. Having learned from the starter, I didn’t even attempt to use the knife and fork, which was a mistake since this was clearly larger slices of meat that needed to be cut. Luckily, the entire room is in such pitch-black darkness that no one can see if you look like a fool while eating (although the stains down the front of my shirt when we left gave me away!) Desert was also quite rushed, although I enjoyed the chocolate pudding and banana bread — hey, at least I could identify it!
The experience of dining in the dark is supposed to heighten your other senses. To some extent this was true, although I was so concerned with the task of getting the food into my mouth that I wasn’t really aware of the taste. I think people were speaking more, and louder, as an attempt to fill the space. Since there are no visual cues from your companions, you have to rely on sound to make sure they are still there!
Overall, I think Dans Le Noir? makes a fun, if somewhat gimmicky, night out. The service is quite rushed, and without time for regular chit chat the meal takes on a frantic pace. It’s also communal seating, so be prepared to share your evening with strangers. Go for the experience alone and you’ll have good time, but be prepared that it’s not a cheap date. A three course meal with a bottle of wine, for two people, was about £120.