This was another one of those urban legends of London, “you know that restaurant where you eat in the dark and you are served by blind waiters.” Oh yes, that old chestnut. We have all heard it, but no-one I knew had ever been…
Until now…. We went to see this for ourselves.
We booked a table for 6 people. In hindsight, this was probably a mistake. Even though we were told, the more the merrier, the restaurant probably saw us on entry and regretted their free reign. We were a pretty loud group, and especially after a bottle of wine down at a pub around the corner (table was booked for 9 so we had some time to kill), the noise levels were definitely going to be a bit of an issue.
We arrived, locked our possessions and all “soft light” such as phones etc in the lockers provided, and headed upstairs to the bar for an(other) drink. What struck me was bizarre was the amount of couples in the bar, waiting to be take downstairs into the blackness. Who knows what date they were on, or even if they were married, just struck me as a strange place to come just as a twosome.
We had pre-ordered our supper beforehand. There was a choice of meat, fish or vegetarian, and we all went for meat – 2 courses, starter and main.
And so the fun began: our waiter, Carl (each table has it’s own designated waiter to avoid confusion) put each of our left hands on the person in front’s shoulder, with the person in front’s hand on his shoulder. After the human train had been assembled, we started walking into the darkness.
When I say darkness, I mean complete, total and utter blackness. The kind of blackness you don’t see in your normal day to day life, the kind of blackness your eyes just don’t get accustomed too. We were led to our table and seated by Carl. He warned us there were no vases, or jugs or anything to obstruct us on the table, only two tumblers each for water and wine.
Now, I know what you are thinking: wine. How is that going to work? Does the waiter pour it for you but no, you have to do it yourself. We worked out that it was precisely 4 glugs of wine to a glass and that was what you had to work with. You were probably better off pouring it yourself as everyone is secretly quite hopeful that they will be the best and not pour it all over themselves/the table.
Let me set the scene: 6 of us are sitting around a table in a room of probably about 30 people in complete darkness – and the noise is something else. As you are lacking one sense, your body feels the need to make up for it, maximsing the use of others. When you are eating with very noisy people anyway, and there are noisy people in the restaurant, this gets pretty maddening.
One thing I feel I must point out was that I had consumed a bottle of wine before we went for dinner, and as we all know, bottle of wine + empty stomach + darkness = the dreaded spins… I thought this must be some sort of sick joke but I did manage to combat it by drinking directly from the water jug as feeling around for a glass just seemed far too much of a hassle.
The starter is served and we ask Carl how we should go about this. He advised that we should try with a fork but most people just end up using their hands. It’s dark so who cares?
There is something on my plate, god knows what it was (I know now, obviously), I tried to spear it with little success, ending up with just a raisin on my fork. When I finally managed to connect with something, it was all or nothing. You just have to put it all in your mouth and hope that it fits and hopes no – one asks you a question, mainly because it is going to be another 5 attempts before you manage to spear any food again.
After the novelty of this was over (don’t forget it was about 10pm at this point so we were all starving), I decided to cut my losses and go at it with my hands. This was ideal, no one could see it, I was getting what I wanted and just winning all around. It is impossible to pace yourself when you are eating in the dark as you cannot see a thing, so we all finished within about 2 minutes of the food being put in front of us.
Drinking was an issue in itself and looking back on the experience, drinking in the light is definitely something we all take for granted. I spent the entire night sticking my fingers into my glasses working out which one was water and which was wine and how full each of them were.
Carl then announced that we were going to have our main courses. I realised that this was most certainly going to be more a challenge than the starter as main courses usually have more components, i.e. potatoes, vegetables, sauce etc. I tried the fork tactic again, only to secure a huge piece of what I thought was venison. I could only manage a mouthful before I had to retreat as it was dripping everywhere, and then reluctantly went back to the hand/sweeping sauce action.
The food was actually surprisingly good, but because of the hilarity of the dark and the general non-concentration of the matter in hand, but we didn’t really spend enough time trying to work out what it was before swallowing it.
After we had all finished and had attempted to pour more wine into our glasses, or just all over the tables, I thought that considering I had used my hands to eat my food in a restaurant, I should probably go to the loo and check out the chaos I had caused to my clothes. Carl was beckoned and he lead me by the hand on shoulder to the loo.
Having been in the total blackness for 40 mins, the sudden presence of light was excruciating, and it took me about 5 minutes of cursing and blinking to re-adjust myself. By some miracle, my clothes were clean and my face relatively so. This was turning out to be a great success.
After I had returned and Carl had replaced me back where I sat (everyone thought it could be utterly hilarious to all change seats in my absence… Carl was not impressed with this), we decided that enough was enough and we were drunkenly lead out of the room back to bar in the light, where we obviously belonged.
Dans le Noir is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and should most certainly be experienced by anyone in search of a whacky evening out. I don’t necessarily feel that I need to go back again as the food was good but the distraction of the total darkness, means that the food does go under-appreciated. Full marks for the gimmick though.
(Of course, we found out what we ate in the end, sadly the actual dishes weren’t available to photograph so I had to make do with this instead.)
Dans Le Noir, 30-31 Clerkenwell Green London EC1R 0DU
020 7253 1100