Have you ever seen About Time? It’s not a requirement to read this article, but if you happen to have watched arguably the greatest rom-com of the past decade then ‘Dans Le Noir’, the restaurant where I spent a unique evening last week, will have an extra layer of intrigue. In one of the first scenes of the movie, the protagonist is roped into going to a special restaurant with his friend, where he meets and falls in love with his future wife. That restaurant, though, is not your ordinary London eatery. Dans Le Noir is, as the name may suggest, entirely, completely pitch black.
When I say the restaurant is pitch black, I mean it. There is no chink of light, no vague silhouette – you cannot see anything at all. In order for the restaurant to function, Dans Le Noir chooses to employ blind waiters, which, according to its website, aims to invoke “a moment of positive empathy that breaks our preconceived ideas of disability”. I was led to the table completely helpless, one hand on the shoulder of our waiter, with my friend’s hand on mine, trying not to trip over my own feet or bump into any of the other guests. As in About Time, you’re seated on a long table with other guests, but other than a parting “enjoy your evening” to the lone woman to the right of me, we didn’t engage in any chit-chat with other people, partly because it’s hard to actually know how far away they are.
The experience of eating in darkness had benefits and downsides. Something that neither I nor my friend had expected was the sense of panic you get when first seated. Being unable to see anything at all is a scary sensation, even when you’re prepared for and expecting it, and although it passed after a minute (I would recommend closing your eyes to acclimatize), it did make us both a little apprehensive for the first few minutes about how much we would enjoy the experience. It’s pretty hard to eat like you normally would in the restaurant, and both of us gave up on cutlery after a few minutes, reverting to using our hands. Not necessarily the most dignified meal I’ve ever had, but it was pretty good fun.
That said, eating in the dark allowed me and my companion to have a more intimate and honest conversation than is always possible in the harsh light of day. Once we’d both relaxed, the blackness allowed us both to feel comfortable in a way that’s not always the case in a public restaurant, where it’s easy to feel strangely observed or awkward. It might have been the ‘surprise cocktail’ (which tasted a lot like slightly jazzed up vodka and orange juice), but I found myself discussing more personal topics than I think I’d have felt comfortable doing in an average setting.
The meal was, if nothing else, surprising. Instead of choosing your food, you’re instead given a tasting menu, told to pick the number of courses, one of three menus – red (meat), blue (fish), or green (vegan/vegetarian), and inform your waiter of any dietary requirements. With no way of seeing what you’re getting, you have to put complete trust in your chef and simply tuck in, with no knowledge of what it is you’re about to taste. We opted for three courses, both slightly apprehensive of what we were letting ourselves into, but we shouldn’t have been worried. Although I can’t fully disclose the secret of what we actually ate (which is revealed to you at the end of the experience), it featured a range of ingredients, from perfectly cooked lamb to possibly the best sticky-toffee-style cake I have ever tasted. Even my friend, who can be quite picky, was completely satisfied with his meal. It’s clear that the restaurant does not just rely on the gimmick of eating in the dark, but puts effort into creating a delicious culinary experience, too. I did feel, though, that the inability to see the food, whilst providing a fun novelty experience, removed a layer of pleasure that comes from seeing food of such high quality.
Overall, Dans Le Noir was a meal like I’ve never had before, and I’m very glad that I had the experience. That being said, I don’t think I’d go again: although I could just about justify spending a scary amount of money as a celebration of my friend’s 21st birthday, you could, it has to be admitted, probably get food that was just as good for about half the price. You are paying extra for the experience of eating in the dark, ultimately a novelty rather than something that truly improved the experience. I would encourage you all to go with an open mind, and the realization that eating in the dark is an entirely different experience to what you might have imagined.