Dans le Noir?
Have you ever imagined what life would be like if you ever lost your sight?
Last week, I headed to Dans Le Noir? (that's French for, 'in the dark') - a London restaurant which invites it's diners to be a part of a unique sensory and social dining experience, where you encounter the world of the visually impaired as you dine in darkness.
The concept of dining in a pitch-black room sounds quite strange at first, but there is a simple and humbling logic behind it all. In terms of the social aspect, guests are seated together at tables where they have the opportunity to interact with one another...in complete darkness, of course. In such a unique scenario, the first impression totally becomes about what you say as opposed to how you look; which is quite refreshing for a change!
Now, I apologise in advance for all this text without the accompaniment of any images; however, I couldn't take any photos since diners are are required to place all belongings (including our phone) in a locker in the dimly-lit foyer. Also, did I mention the restaurant is completely pitch-black?!
You are asked by the staff to choose your menu as follows:
A red menu for meat-eaters
A blue menu for fish & seafood lovers
A green menu for us veggies
A white menu for those who like the element of surprise!
Once you've selected your preferred menu, you aren't actually informed as to what you will be served; which adds to the whole notion of a heightened sense of imagination. You can also ask for surprise drinks too, adding another element of excitement to your experience as you dine in the dark trying to guess what you are eating and drinking.
Once the menu and drinks have been ordered, a group of diners are invited to the dining area; thus signalling the start of your sensory and social experience. This begins by placing your right hand on the shoulder of the person in front of you. As I was at the front of the line, I placed my right hand onto the shoulder of our blind waiter Simon, who escorted us into the unknown. All the waiters at Dans le Noir are visually impaired, so this truly is a case of the blind leading the blind!
We passed through a thick black curtain which separates the foyer and dining area, and all of a sudden we were surrounded by the loud noise of the other diners, laughing and conversing in the dark. Although it is their job and they are used to it, it really is completely surreal that we rely on the blind waiters to lead us through the darkness, meandering around the tables and chairs trying not to accidentally bump into a table, chair or person!
Simon located the empty table at the other end of the room and asked us to place our hand in front of us, where we could feel a chair and table. I pulled the chair forward and ever so carefully slid into it as I attempted to feel around for what was in front of me; a glass, cutlery, napkins?!
Trying to get a sense of my surroundings, I felt a wall to my left and realised there were no diners next to me, but all of a sudden we heard some voices from quite close to us and realised there must be other people on our table. Calling across the table in dark I asked, 'Is anyone there in front of us?' - to which someone replied 'Yes, we are directly in front of you... we think?'
There is this complete sense of confusion that takes over initially for the first five minutes or so, after which your senses do acclimatise and you can enjoy the experience fully. Before this point, I felt slightly panicked and kept opening and closing my eyes thinking that might change the way I see things (pun intended). It really is strange how our bodies and mind react to such situations, yet this is the every day reality for the visually impaired.
I felt an instant sense of gratitude and appreciation for my senses, which is also another reason why it is a humbling dining experience.
Even though the price you are paying for the food and experience is slightly above average, the overall vibe of the restaurant is very casual and relaxed. They say that all other senses are heightened when you lose one or more senses; in this instance, the lack of vision meant that conversations around seemed louder and the food to be quite flavoursome. It had me wondering whether I would appreciate the food more so or less so if I were in a normal restaurant where I could see my food and everything around me.
If you need anything during your dinner, all you have to do is shout out your waiters name, which seemed quite strange at first, but the good thing is you can't really be embarrassed and you don't lose face because nobody can see you!
At the end of the meal, it gets even more intriguing when you are lead back into the light by your waiter and asked if you would like to see what you had for your meal. I could detect from the textures that I was served mushrooms and pastry for my main, and chocolate mousse, raspberry coulis and a jelly like substance for dessert. Everything I described was there on the menu.
Personally, I wouldn't go again as I know what to expect now - that initial element of surprise and prospect of the unknown adds to the whole thrill of this experience. The food however was delicious, and the drinks refreshing. Again, this could be down to the fact that the absence of one sense enhances the others. I find it interesting that in a world where social media has consumed us and made us confident communicators in the digital realm, in the real world we have become socially inept. For example, take the London Underground during rush hour where you are right up close to someone's armpit and face, but even in such a scenario we won't look other commuters in the eye and strike up a conversation.
At Dans Le Noir? we can go back to being normal human beings again for a few hours, being present in the moment with our food, and engaging in the art of real conversation…albeit in the absence of light
Images Source: Dans le Noir