A feast for the senses

Post date: 
Monday, 2 October 2017
Dans le Noir

The London restaurant, Dans le Noir, serves its diners in complete darkness. For some community members, this may not sound unfamiliar, but for Leeanne Coyle and her husband Jeremy, eating in the pitch black was a new experience.

 
As someone who has worked with blind people for many years, it was a little strange to be on the other side for the first time.
 
Our waiter, Gal, helped to create the experience of eating a meal in the dark because he is registered blind. When we arrived, he explained: “I have congenital glaucoma so it’s a reverse service – blind people serving sighted people. I started working here about 10 years ago. I guide sighted and non-sighted or disabled people inside the dark room to their table, explain what they can expect, and serve food and drinks.”
 
Gal, in his reassuring manner, described what was in front of Jeremy and I, and when it came to serving us the drinks, he used simple but effective measures to help us find the glasses. But, despite this, we managed to get a little confused – whether it was accidentally putting my hand in the food or elbowing the woman next to me. Luckily, she was fine about it. This type of thing happened again and again throughout the evening.

Why dining in the dark?

The Deputy General Manager, Michael Reznik, explained that what they are trying to achieve at Dans le Noir is more than just serving good food.

 

“We provide our customers with a unique sensorial and social experience of eating in the pitch dark,” he said. “At the same time, all the senses are challenged and diners have the opportunity to taste without being able to see the food. We are the only place in London to do that.

“It seems chaotic because when anything is done in the dark, it can seem confusing at first. That’s why sometimes, when you sense a stimulus, people can feel apprehensive or even scared.
 
“In most cases, people get used to it and when they finish their meal and leave the dark room, they are very surprised and feel like they’ve faced their fears. It can even be quite therapeutic for some diners.”
 
I reached out to feel where Jeremy’s face was. He found it very disconcerting and explained: “You’re sort of wondering what’s around you, what’s going on. It’s intriguing.” Strangely, I thought I might feel a bit freaked out about the fact that it is pitch black. If I picture the meal without any background music and instead sitting in silence, I think it would feel quite eerie.

Challenges of eating in the dark

I try to take my first forkful, but I basically stab the plate randomly. Jeremy asks if I’m trying to eat from his bowl, but I reassure him it’s my own, I think. I hope there’s something on the end of the fork. I put it in my mouth. Oh, wow. Cheese. And with that, Jeremy remarks that he thinks I mixed the butter with my salad.
 
A myriad of funny incidents clatter around the room. Whips of laughter kept everyone on their toes and filled the room with a real buzz, a unique element of Dans le Noir that Gal says can spill over sometimes.
 
“Some of the people get claustrophobic; they want to get out. Some people cry and some want to go outside. Others have even been known to collapse,” he said.
 

“Ninety-nine per cent of people actually enjoy it. For those who go inside and panic, after 10 or 15 minutes they are laughing away, talking to other customers. It’s like a network in the dark.”

A network in the dark; I’ll drink to that, if only I could find my glass.
 
The food continued to arrive with the mains and then the desserts. They all tasted great and Jeremy and I tried to guess what we were eating, but it wasn’t until the end that we were handed the menu. It was so interesting to finally find out what we’d had for dinner.
 
All in all, we had fun. I won’t dare to say that my experience at Dans le Noir has helped me understand what it’s like to be blind – of course it hasn’t – but it did give me a crash course in eating without sight.
 
If you’d like to visit Dans le Noir or find out more, go to danslenoir.com.
 

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