Dans Le Noir
As a child I was scared of the dark, a fear that remains with me today, albeit to a lesser degree. So it was with some trepidation that I went for dinner recently at Dans Le Noir, a restaurant whose modus operandi is to offer its diners the experience of eating in complete darkness. The idea is that the absence of sight will heighten the other remaining senses. Tastebuds will become more discerning and hopefully more appreciative of food that comes their way, and ears will become better attuned to the conversations of their companions.
There were 10 of us, all converging at the Clerkenwell venue to celebrate our friend’s birthday. The front-of-house area where we gathered was bright and welcoming, a place where we could deposit our belongings in lockers (no light-generating items are permitted in the dining area) and pre-order the drinks that we would enjoy with our meal. A friendly-but-efficient, clipboard-wielding Portuguese maître d’ corralled us towards a curtain beyond which the benighted dining room awaited , and we were entrusted to the care of Jack, who like all waiting staff at the restaurant, is blind. He led us through the curtain – and darkness fell.
I believe that in health terms, artificial light has a lot to answer for. Along with poor diet and stress, the endless summers ushered in by Edison’s most famous invention are playing a major role in the prevalence of modern diseases. This belief, however, did nothing to assuage my fears as we were led, right hand placed gingerly on the right shoulder of the person in front of us, through the lightless room and seated at the table. The darkness is initially truly disconcerting; I tried to counteract my nervousness by talking as my eyes searched frantically for some scintilla of light. Once seated at the table, I felt strangely reassured when I managed to locate my cutlery and drinking glasses and the fear subsided as I engaged in deep conversation with my neighbours. It is true that the darkness heightens your powers of perception. I really tuned in to what people were saying and I found that their voices had a strangely hypnotic quality. Wrapped in a cloak of invisibility, there was no opportunity or need to enhance conversations with visual syntax which made for easier and more carefree communication. It really hit home how much we rely on visual cues when conversing with others.
The food arrived quickly. Beforehand we’d had to choose one of four dishes: the white dish, which is the chef’s surprise; blue (fish), red (meat) and green (vegetarian). I opted for the red. I won’t divulge what I had because part of the Dans Le Noir experience involves speculating on what you are eating – it’s fun to be presented with the menu when you return to the front-of-house area after your meal to see how close to reality your guesses were. However I will say that I was impressed with the quality of the food and the generous portions. I also liked the variety of food presented – the menu was well thought-out. Fairly soon everyone, including me, had grown accustomed to the situation and contented chatter could be heard around the table. The waiters don’t pour the wine, but we managed to distribute it with aplomb, the fact that the wine glasses aren’t in fact wine glasses but solid glass tumblers minimising any spillages.
After what appeared to be a relatively short amount of time, we heard Jack asking if we were ready to be led out. We agreed and all too soon we were blinking in the light, assuring a party waiting to be led into the dining room that they were in for a treat. The general verdict was that a good time was had by all. My verdict? It won’t become a regular haunt of mine, but it is a place worth visiting at least once, and preferably in a group. Who knows – in the darkness you might find enlightenment.