|My friend Claire looking terrified!|
For me, going for a meal is a luxury that I indulge I probably too frequently. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll see that I’m one of those people who will always take a photo of whatever delicious thing I’m eating that evening; I believe it deserves to be shared. That’s not possible at Dans le Noir.
This unassuming restaurant in Clerkenwell, London, is the world’s first ‘dining in the dark’ concept restaurant. The entire restaurant is in pitch black, you do not know what you are eating, and you are served by visually impaired waiting staff. Sounds like a gimmick, but this place is extremely clever, thought provoking and one hell of a challenge.
We arrived into a dimly lit room and asked which menu we would like to have: veggie, meat, seafood or surprise. My friend (who is scared of the dark!) was nervous and plumped for vegetarian, whereas I figured I should go for the full experience and chose the surprise menu. We were then introduced to our waitress for the evening, Joy. She was absolutely fantastic for the whole evening, she was friendly, helpful and made us feel completely at ease. She was happy to talk about her work and told us that she was blind in one eye and partially sighted in the other. She, and the rest of the staff, had to memorise the layout of the restaurant in order to serve us throughout the evening – an incredible feat. I don’t think I could navigate my own flat with my eyes closed. We lined up behind Joy, our hands on each other’s shoulders and we led into the dining room.
Now let me try and explain the darkness. It is like a void, it is unnerving and bizarre. You wait for your eyes to adjust but they never do. You close your eyes to try and tell the difference but it’s impossible. You look around to get a feel for the room you’re in and you can’t. You try to see your hand right in front of your face and it’s impossible. I’ve never been anywhere so dark. I’m not afraid of the dark so I thought I would be fine, but it never occurred to me that I might feel claustrophobic. As there weren’t many people seated when we went in, the room was quite quiet and I felt like I was in a box. I started to panic. I couldn’t get out, I couldn’t see the exits, I was trapped. I called for Joy and she was there within seconds and took me back outside. I felt so stupid, but the staff told me that it’s quite a regular occurrence. They explained to me that the room actually sits 60 people! In my mind it was about 20 people in a tiny room. I decided to go back in and as we went in I put my hands above my head to remind myself that there wasn’t a ceiling right above me. The people sat next to us were lovely and we chatted to them throughout the evening, trying to guess what we all looked like!
We were told where our cutlery was located and taught how to pour our own tap water. It was like learning to eat all over again. I couldn’t tell what edge of my knife was sharp, where the food on my plate was, if the food was on my fork, how much food was left on my plate, if the fork was anywhere near my mouth. In the end I realised I would have to use my hands. I felt and smelt everything that was in front of me to try and guess what I was eating and to figure out how much food I actually had left! By some small miracle (and with a bit of cockiness) I managed to put the rest of my dessert onto my friend’s plate for her to finish and it didn’t end up on the table or floor!
When we were led out (with our new friends from the table) we laughed at the weird situation of actually seeing the people we’d been talking to for well over an hour. I exclaimed that one of them had a beard! It just hadn’t occurred to me; he didn’t sound like he had a beard!! Being back in the lights made me feel dizzy at first and it took a few minutes to readjust. We were then shown our menus. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT IS ON THE SURPRISE MENU, SKIP THE NEXT PARAGRAPH!
I knew I’d had something fishy for my starter but couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Turns out I’d had crab cake, and I’m almost a little annoyed that I couldn’t figure that out! My main was the biggest surprise though. I thought I’d had a big steak with potatoes and vegetables. It was in fact three different meats: springbok, ostrich and crocodile! The lack of light meant I couldn’t tell them apart, and the consistency was so similar that I didn’t really make the most of eating something so different. I’d guessed dessert though! We had white chocolate cheesecake and rhubarb jelly – the perfect dessert to eat with your hands!
I’d like to say a particular thank you to our wonderful waitress Joy who made the whole evening comfortable, inspiring and enjoyable – she is fantastic and you’ll be very lucky if you get her for the evening!
Dans le Noir is one hell of an experience. As we left we high fived as we genuinely felt that we had come through an ordeal together, we had real elation running through us! It has to be tried to believed. Don’t go for the food (although it was delicious), go for the challenge. Although quite pricey (£55 for set three course meal), remember that you’re paying for the experience. There is nothing else like it in London, and that’s why I fully recommend it.