Ever since I first saw the Richard Curtis movie About Time I have been intrigued by the concept of eating in complete darkness. And this weekend my curiosity was finally satisfied (not so sure about my appetite tho but more on that later) when it was my turn to organise our thrice-annual ‘Culture Night’.
So here’s the deal – the London-based restaurant Dans Le Noir in Clerkenwell Green is in complete darkness. Not the sort of darkness that is in your bedroom at night when you wake up needing a wee – but total and utter darkness – goodness knows how they get it so dark. It is at least 50% staffed by people with disabilities a large proportion of who are blind as they have an obvious advantage when it comes to serving people in the dark.
Anyway the idea of eating in complete darkness appealed to me for many reasons, the top four being…
1. Maybe the food would taste better? On the basis that as one of your senses fails others are meant to heighten, so maybe your taste buds would rise to the occasion and make it a culinary feast of epic proportions…
2. We could make new, random friends? Although I hate to admit it – as I am quite a judgmental person – having to speak to people without having a clue what they looked like would mean I would have to just get on with them without any prejudgment on how old/fat/ugly/whatever they are…
3. No one I know has ever done it before. I love to be the first to try new things and was particular looking forward to telling my daughter about this experience seeing as she is such a huge fan of About Time.
4. It was my turn to organise the culture night and I was determined to beat the alcohol inhaling adventure of our last meeting!
Well all I can say is two out of four isn’t bad!
Food does not taste better. The actual eating experience was very weird. You get to choose from 4 menus – vegetarian, meat, fish/seafood and exotic surprise. We all opted for the fish/seafood menu and I must admit that for the most part it was nearly impossible to work out what we were actually eating… Apart from the prawns (peeled thankfully) and noodles (really – in the dark – eating noodles – whose bright idea was that?). But all in all eating without being able to see what you are putting in your mouth takes away quite a lot of the pleasure of the eating experience. And rather than offering a rather fancy menu of mackerel, sea bream, prawns and goodness knows what else – I think they’d have been better off with a bowl of chips and some fish goujons.
We made no new friends… Surprisingly I felt very close to having a panic attack on entering the restaurant. Mr G – our blind guide – was very helpful if a little jaded by his work and irritated by his customers – and when he collected us from the (lit) bar area he instructed us to form a line with the person at the front placing a hand on his right shoulder – and then the next person to do the same to the one in front, etc, etc.
Anyway he walked us into the restaurant at the risk of stating the obvious, it was really bloody dark. You could literally see nothing at all. And everything seemed really loud and buzzy – yet it was really hard to hear anything that was said. Once we were sat down and had managed to pour our wine – we all relaxed a bit more but in truth it was hard enough to communicate with each other – let alone manage to make friends with the people next to us.
As we never got to see the restaurant in the light it’s very hard to tell what it looked like in terms of sizes and seating arrangements – but I think we were on a long trestle table with other groups. However although we made no new friends I do think it brought us three closer together – certainly physically as the only form of comfort and way to anchor yourself during the initial panic-attack phase was holding hands across the table and touching feet underneath the table (I was sat opposite the others…)
It was great to try something new. I honestly believe it’s always good to get that sick slightly panicky feeling in your tummy – makes the adrenalin pump and brings excitement into your life. Plus it’s great to then have something genuinely interesting to tell other people. And yes my daughter was really impressed – in fact I think I am now officially the coolest mum in Kew 😉
It did beat the Alcoholic Inhalation of the last culture trip!
After the meal was over Mr G led us outside to the lit bar. We were then shown photos of what we supposedly ate. It all looked very fancy – did they really bother with the presentation when no one would ever be able to see the food? Apparently so, but I’m not convinced as it felt like a messy pile of mush to me (yes I did give up with my fork and end up eating with my hands…). But we did identify the mackerel and the prawn noodles – we didn’t get anywhere near identifying the sea bream or the cod.
Bill paid we then headed up to a lovely bistro in Exmouth Market for the most delicious salted caramel and chocolate mousse I’ve ever tasted. I could see and smell and taste and enjoy it whilst drink wine and looking at my friends. What a delish dessert!
My verdict on Dans Le Noir… I am really glad I had the experience, I would thoroughly recommend the experience (tho choose who you go with carefully) but I’m not sure I would do it again.