Using your senses… (Stephanie’s Blog)

Last week I had an interesting and unique dining experience at “Dans le Noir” – a restaurant completely in the dark! It was in London and it is something I read about a while back and have since been wanting to go… So me and my Mum booked a table and along we went.

On arrival you are introduced to the restaurant in a lit-lounge and asked to choose a menu type (which were labelled by colour) the four menus were “vegetarian”, “meat”, “seafood” or “chefs surprise!” Naturally all of it was surprising as it was in the dark and before eating we never saw the full extent of the menu. We both chose the Chefs Surprise and I also chose the Surprise Cocktail! After a brief-wander around the lounge we were introduced to our waiter (all of the Waiters are blind…) and you really feel like you are experiencing life how they do.

We were directed to our table with a bit of “we are turning left, we are going through a curtain now…” but other than those directions we simply had our hand on the person in front’s shoulder and had to trust our Waiter. Asher (as he was called) was amazing and his spatial awareness was amazing. He took my Mum around to her seat and left me completely in the dark but he managed to come back and find exactly where I was stood, take my hand, and take me around to my side of the table. The atmosphere was quiet when we first arrived but it got busier and noisier.

We were given a quick run-through of where everything was, a jug of water to our left, glasses to our right, knives, forks, serviettes etc! Asher then brought us some bread which I must admit, with my heavy-handedness I managed to tip the basked slightly but luckily nothing fell out. I’m clumsy in the light, never mind the dark… Pouring water was a challenge but luckily it wasn’t your typical jug with a handle, it was a carafe (the wine jugs with no handles.) But it was an odd feeling have to place my finger in the glass to know when to stop pouring and when it was full. The option with our ordered-drinks was that we had them in the lounge or they would be brought to our table when we were seated. We had them brought to our table and therefore didn’t see them but mine was a delicious, Malibu-esque cocktail and i thoroughly enjoyed it.

Our starters arrived and it was delicious – the food was something I really couldn’t fault. My Mum and I both knew that it was some kind of raw fish and cucumber salad and I could taste honey. My guess was that it was salmon as that is a fish I am familiar with eating raw and the texture.

After our starters Asher collected the plates (I don’t mean to sound patronising but again it is admirable and amazing how he knew where the plates were and the cutlery, how and when to pick them up!) He checked everything was okay and we said it was delicious, he explained that the main courses wouldn’t be too long. In the interlude between starter and main course another couple came and joined our table. (We were aware that depending on party-sizes the tables were shared but this wasn’t an issue for us.) The couple were lovely, the woman had been before and the man was very hungry so he consumed a lot od bread in a short space of time. Similarly to radio, but hearing people’s voices and not seeing them is a crucial part of the experience but the most bewildering part also.

The main courses arrived and although we couldn’t see the presentation, you could appreciate that the presentation was amazing from the way it felt on the plate. With the starter and the main course we both started using knives and forks but we did resort to using our hands at one point – the restaurant advertise it as “eating with your hands in the dark” so this was expected and obviously the way to do it! The main course was a red meat – we thought perhaps lamb, cous cous, a potato-type vegetable but not quite potato and a sweet fruit/vegetable with a slight skin to it. This main course was delicious, we both cleared the plates and you simply could not complain. The quality was better than most chain-restaurants and even some of the michelin-starred restaurants I have eaten it. Not being able to see what everything was really heightened the use of other senses, you could feel the texture of things and the smell of the food on arrival prior to the overall taste was just such an experience in itself.

Throughout the meal we were chatting away to this couple next to us and weirdly, she asked us what we were wearing so we could see each other in the lounge after the meal, but it was a great idea. They were a course behind us but we did catch up with them at the end. Prior to this though we had our dessert to come which was served in a pot (naturally feeling the plate first) and tapping inside the pot with the spoon I felt the hard, crispy topping of burnt sugar… Crème brûlée!!

I love crème brûlée and as a dessert we enjoy making at home and eating out, we feel we are quite the connoisseurs! The first spoonful was amazing, rich and creamy and just plain delicious. With a light scent and perfumed-flavour I assumed it was rose-flavoured. Either way it was gorgeous and even more so with every spoonful!! Safe to say we used our fingers to make sure we hadn’t missed a bit…

Back into the lounge at the end of the meal, we were asked what we thought we had eaten – some of our responses got some laughs! We said everything I have written above that we thought we tasted, experiences, smelt and ate. We were shown photos of the meals so we could relate with our eye-sight saying “oh that was what was in the bottom left-hand corner…”

The starters were raw fish and a cucumber salad with a honey-dressing but there were two fish, tuna and swordfish! Exciting things I hadn’t eaten before.

The main courses however, our guesses were miles off, it was in fact a trio of meats – Zebra, Ostrich and Beef. Served with cous cous, caramelised onions and pumpkin! The vegetables reflected and explained further what we thought but we had no idea there were or even could have been three different meats…

And the dessert was of course crème brûlée but it wasn’t rose flavour, but it was a flower – it was lavender. Delicious!

This experience has definitely shown me not to judge by what is on a menu or automatically assume it is something I don’t like without trying it. Other than the crème brûlée, I wouldn’t have chosen a single aspect of that meal had I read it on a menu but it goes to show we make mental images and judge too easily! I would definitely go again and thoroughly enjoyed my experience. A very pleasant surprise and experience.

We also met the couple in the lounge just before we left and they looked nothing like what I had imagined, for some reason I pictured a middle-aged couple, however that could not have been further from what I saw when I met them – two lovely, young, mid-twenty year olds!

Surprises and learning curves all round…

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