In the dark – an unusual dining experience

IMG_3719Last week I went to a rather unusual London restaurant. It’s called Dans le Noir and as the name suggests diners enjoy their meal in total and complete darkness.

It’s not just a bit gloomy, you really can’t see a thing.

Diners are welcomed into a lit reception area and are asked to pick from a choice of meat, fish, vegetarian or ‘surprise me’ menus. Whichever menu you pick you don’t know exactly what you are going to eat or drink. With the menu sorted you store all your possessions in lockers, including phones and especially anything that will produce light, like watches with illuminated faces.

You enter the restaurant through two sets of blackout curtains where you are introduced to your waiter, who is completely blind. They lead you into the restaurant. You walk behind each other in single file holding onto each others shoulders. You then feel your way into your seat. It’s at that point that I started to look round and realised that I couldn’t see anything. Not even vague shapes. Not even my own hand in front of my face. It was an eerie feeling.

My friend and I had a main course each and shared a starter and dessert. We didn’t think the logistics of this through properly when we ordered. We couldn’t even find the plate to share from at first. We had to feel our way to the food.

It’s a strange sensation eating something you can’t see. You become more aware of texture and flavour. I was surprised how many of the flavours I couldn’t describe. The starter was slimy and fishy (we thought it was salmon) we both ended up eating big mouthfuls with our fingers, as it is hard to find things and cut them up when you can’t see them. Plus with no one to see you, ‘normal’ rules of eating didn’t apply. When you share food with someone you are aware of having the same amount as the other person, often a last mouthful is left and you politely discuss who gets it. In the dark there is none of the usual ‘no this is your bit this is my bit’ stuff as you have no idea how much is on the plate or how much the other person has eaten. It’s each for their own.

The main course definitely had a cous cous component (confirmed by the amount we had spilled down ourselves once we got back in the light) and meat that we thought was pork. I thought I ate a raisin and perhaps some cauliflower as well as some unidentified slime.

We both used our hands to eat a lot. It’s hard to keep food you can’t see on a fork you cant see. I had a moment where I indulged in just licking the dropped cous cous off my palms, wondering if – and then not caring – it would be caught on CCTV footage.

I thought I was eating orange jelly from the 70s for dessert with some sort of crème angel delight. There were too many flavours to pick out but it was incredibly sweet.

The pictures and descriptions of the food are below. I was shocked at how bad we were at identifying our food, some of the dishes I had not had before (like camel meat), but overall our taste identification performance was pretty poor.

Without sight you also have to adapt your behaviour.

I noticed that we seemed to be talking more loudly and was more aware of using expression in my voice.

At one point my friend nodded to agree with something I was saying. I thought she had wandered off as I anxiously enquired if she was still there. She had to explain that she just nodded. We agreed that nodding wasn’t very helpful in this dark situation.

As the conversation progressed we needed to explain our facial expressions to prevent any misunderstandings. Sometimes I can sound sarcastic without meaning to. If you can see my face and gestures, you know that I am genuine or smiling so it’s ok, but without the body language I had to explain that I was joking, or raising one eyebrow, or ‘being serious now’. In the dark so many subtleties of communication that you take for granted are lost. You also realise how much you rely on body language both for your own communication as well as for understanding other peoples.

I still have no idea what the restaurant looked like or how many other people were there. If you want to experience something different, challenge some of the behaviours you take for granted, test your taste buds and communication skills then I recommend Dans le Noir. The dishes we ate are pictured below. Who knew?

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IMG_3724This blog is courtesy of the 40 to 40 list and bought to you by the number 37.

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