The blind feeding the blind

For Sue’s birthday we visited the Dans Le Noir? restaurant in London. I can’t say I was immediately enamoured by the idea but then it wasn’t my birthday.

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For those that have not heard about this place, the dining area is completely blacked out so barely a photon gets in to illuminate your food. Any devices that could ruin this, such as mobile phones, are put into lockers beforehand. Once inside and seated, you are waited upon by partially sighted or blind members of staff who also lead you to and from your seat. In addition to not being able to see your food, you don’t even know what it is as the only choice you get to make is meat/fish/vegetarian/surprise.

So after some refreshments in The City Pride pub down the road, we entered the restaurant and hung around in the dimly lit bar area where we discovered that Dans Le Noir? is stupidly expensive for cocktails. If you do decide to go, take lots of money for drinks as the prices and quantities are the opposite of what you’re hoping for. I’d hate to think these were normal prices – my wages mean I don’t get to dine in London regularly enough to tell.

The windows look black (see above) but are tinted so that you can’t see into the bar area but those inside can watch people go past outside. 

Sue chose the “Dégustation Surprise” menu which included extra drinks and I went for the vegetarian. Quite a surprising variance there and the opposite of what you’d expect. Sue chose the surprise menu in an “in for a penny, in for a pound” spirit but I chose a more practical approach as I knew there was nothing they could do with a vegetable (in a culinary context) that I couldn’t handle.

After that, we were introduced to Liam who lead us down an unlit corridor and into the dining area. The seating was a little cramped but luckily no-one was sitting on one side so we didn’t feel too packed in. One aspect of the darkness that we noticed in the reviews was that you can’t see who you are sitting next to and it can quite a shock when you meet up again in the light afterwards. In our case, what seemed to be a youngish married couple from London (don’t ask me why I thought she was blonde) turned out to be a brunette with her deep-voice tranny partner who had travelled in from Milton Keynes to celebrate their anniversary. They were good company, unlike a pair of men two seats along on our other side.

Eating was a mild challenge, as you’d expect. Getting small items onto a fork wasn’t too much of a problem but cutting up larger pieces of food was tricky and at one point I was eating a large pasta creation on the end of a form like a toffee apple. Other diners were quicker to resort to using fingers to pick things up.

It’s interesting to note that it is easier to recognise a flavour in food when you know what you are supposed to be tasting. I had pretty much no clue what I was eating between the obvious flavours of Roquefort in the starter and chocolate in the dessert. It was only when we had left the dining area that we were presented with binders of photographs of the sort of meals we had been eating. I had a slight regret at taking the safe vegetarian option as I didn’t get to say I had eaten Wagyu beef (ostrich I’d had before several years ago).

John’s choice Sue’s choice
Warm Roquefort cheesecake with tomato chutney;
Apple and fig pastille on bed of salad
Scallops tartare with black pudding and celeriac
Aubergine raita with spinach and ricotta ravioli;
Potato and chestnut gnocchi with roasted salsify;
Bag of crepe with ratatouille.
Blue shark steak with Swiss chard, capers and olive tapenade;
Wagyu beef served with Savoy cabbage, cauliflower and garlic cream;
Fillet of ostrich with roasted salsify and shallots puree
Chocolate mille-feuille with raspberries jelly (layers of dark chocolate mousse and white chocolate with raspberries) Chocolate mille-feuille with raspberries jelly

The lack of light was only interesting in the way other people handled it. The online reviews had described a few cases where some diners could not cope and had to leave early. This seemed strange to me as we were not dining on a Ghost Train – nothing should be leaping out of the darkness to scare you. Apparently, the problem was a feeling of claustrophobia and Sue had to summon Liam to assist her out of the room so she could have a nerve-settling loo break. I was quite happy to sit there, eating my food and listening to the hub-bub around me, the latter helping my mind gain a feeling for the large size of the room. Another advantage I have is that I’ve been left in the dark about so much in my life that it’s almost a natural state. [[Joke]]

I was later thinking whilst travelling on the Underground about the subject of being claustrophobic and how passengers give little thought to the fact there is anything up to 220 feet of solid matter above their heads. I suppose if the lights went out then they may start giving that fact more mental consideration.

In summary, the restaurant is an interesting concept and well-implemented. The catering is what you’d expect from a decent restaurant (although I am making the big assumption that the meals do really look as good as the photos would have you believe).

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