Or in other words ‘In The Dark?’. And yes that question mark is supposed to be there. It’s kind of appropriate really because when my friend told me we were going to eat in the dark for her birthday I replied, ‘Really? In the dark?’. The thing about this restaurant is that unless you know someone who has been there, or you manage to find a review online, there is very little information as to what actually happens once you’re inside. How can you see what you’re eating? Surely there must be SOME light? How do the waiters know what they are doing in the dark? A somewhat confusing concept and one that had me mildly concerned in the lead up to the event itself. So let me try and shed some light on the matter for you – no pun intended (Ok maybe a little).
This restaurant is not for the faint hearted because when they say in the dark, they literally mean in the pitch black, ‘where the hell am I?’ dark. Based on the idea that by suppressing the dominant sense of sight all other senses are heightened, this is a concept restaurant that is more about sensory experience as opposed to fine dining.
Located in the trendy area of Farringdon (just a hop, skip and a jump from the tube station) and casting a seductive glow out into the street, Dans Le Noir gave nothing away from its exterior. The reception/bar area was dimly lit and once inside we were instructed to put all of our belongings into a locker and order our drinks. There was a certain air of ‘you won’t need anything where you’re going’. By now mildly concerned had turned to massively apprehensive. We were introduced to our blind waiter (all the waiters are either blind or partially sighted) Thomas, and told to shout his name if we needed anything. And boy did we shout his name.
Next we were instructed to line up and place a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us as if we were about to do the conga, which, much to my disappointment we weren’t. Instead we were led down a dark corridor and through a black curtain until we were in the pitch black. It’s hard to explain the feeling but all I can say is that I’ve never experienced darkness like it. It sounds silly but our idea of dark isn’t really that dark because even at night, with the lights off and curtains drawn, we still experience a certain level of light either from the glare of a streetlamp or the glow from the moon. However, this room was completely isolated from any of these factors to the point where it was a genuine shock to the system. So much so, one of our party couldn’t remain in the room and had to ask Thomas to lead her back into the reception area, leaving the link in the conga line broken and thus rendering the rest of us completely helpless.
Once Thomas returned (thank god) we were led to our table and guided to our seats. Using our sense of touch to navigate the space around us we sat down and were instructed to feel around the table to locate our cutlery, glasses and napkins. You see, once deprived from our main sense, our sight, we had to rely entirely on our other senses such as touch. I should mention here that pouring wine in the dark is not all that easy.
Before long a plate was put down in-front of me and I was again searching for my fork. This was the scary part. Dipping my fork into my plate, picking something up (literally could have been anything) and putting it in my mouth in an attempt to try and work out what it was. After a few mouthfuls of air, and then a few mouthfuls of the only thing I could find on my plate, and then a fight with my knife and a rather stubborn substance on my plate, I eventually gave up a started searching around my plate with my fingers. Table manners? Oh please, at at time like that? The food was tepid, which didn’t make for the most enjoyable meal I’ve ever had, but I can only imagine this is intentional so that diners don’t have any accidents.
The meal consisted of a very shouty conversation (in the absence of eye contact you have to shout and hope that someone will acknowledge you), a slight animalistic approach to eating (a knife and fork will only hinder you), and a rather messy table (when you don’t know where the edge of your plate is it’s easy to push food off it). After what felt like about half an hour (I think it was I don’t know, I couldn’t see a clock) we had finished our meal and were lining back up, with hands on shoulders, ready to make our way back into the light. At this point I think I actually did do the conga purely out of sheer happiness at the prospect of being reunited with my eyesight.
Even though Dans Le Noir? is daunting to begin with, you soon learn to place your trust in your waiter and relax in your surroundings. From there it’s all about using your sense of hearing, touch, taste and smell more than you’ve ever used them before. What this restaurant does brilliantly is take away all your inhibitions and, without being able to see what you’re eating, makes you rely upon what you already know about food. Whether you’re right or wrong, you’re definitely pushed out of your comfort zone and encouraged to base all of your decisions on trust.
If you’re heading to London and fancy a dining experience with a difference I would definitely recommend a trip to Dans Le Noir?. If you’re brave enough check out the website here.