Dans Le Noir is a restaurant that serves food in the dark:
Experience the unique interaction between clientele and guides as your food and wine are served in total darkness. Awaken and train your senses as you enjoy the tastes, aromas, flavours and textures of our exquisite creative cuisine.
I like the idea of my senses being awakened. It sounds vaguely erotic. So I book a table.
The Restaurant in the dark. In the dark.
The first thing you notice when entering Dans Le Noir are the reviews. In the manner of all good high street curry houses, the walls are lined with the framed excerpts of favourable reports, in this case a series of searingly pretentious quotes proclaiming the restaurant’s lack of pretension. It’s not a good start, and neither is the wine list, which features both roman alphabet and braille listings. This is a nice touch, except that the Braille is printed on the page, not embossed. In other words, a blind person couldn’t read it.
After ordering a bottle of wine in the well-lit bar, we select our meals. One can choose either specific courses from the a la carte menu, or asked to be ‘surprised’ for a few pounds more. Given that every review I’ve seen of the restaurant leads me to the conclusion that the surprise choices are taken from the same menu as the non-surprise selections, I opt for the former: three tastes of foie gras start the ball rolling, fricassae of chicken in riesling sauce, smoked potato mash, buttered leeks and vegetable crisps provide the bulk of the meal, while chocolate truffle pavÃ© and Baileys ice cream round everything off. Sounds lovely.
And then it’s into the darkness. We meet our ‘guide’ (they’re not called waitresses, of course) and are led, though a series of thick black curtains, into the dining room where, like it says on the tin (printed in braille, no doubt), it’s absolutely pitch black. You have no idea where your fellow diners are sitting, how many are at the table, how big the room is, or indeed if the guy in the next seat has stripped naked and is rubbing asparagus spears into his groin. It’s genuinely disconcerting. Pouring wine becomes a Krypton Factor-style test of nerve and dexterity, and despite inserting three fingers into the glass to gauge the level, I still manage to soak the tablecloth. Luckily enough no-one can see this, of course, although our guide notices straight away. Pretty soon our first course arrives.
Three tastes of fois gras
It’s not easy, guiding foie gras into your mouth when you can’t see it, the cutlery or your plate, and pretty soon I’ve abandoned any kind of manners and am shovelling the stuff onto my fork with my fingers, scrabbling round the plate to locate any stray morsels. If you could see it, it wouldn’t be a pretty sight. But you can’t, so it probably doesn’t matter.
Fricassae of chicken in Riesling sauce, smoked potato mash, buttered leeks and vegetable crisps
It’s about this time that I begin to get suspicious of the entire experience. A fricassae is either poultry or meat cut into pieces and stewed in gravy, but why has it been chosen for the menu? I suspect the answer has little to do with culinary adventure and everything to do with texture. It’s mushy, so is the mash, the leeks are soft and the vegetable crisps are nothing of the sort. The starter was pretty much the same, and the desert that follows is also a single-texture non-event. I suspect that the restaurant’s keenness to avoid performing Heimlich maneuvers in pitch darkness has something to do with this, so everything has the texture of baby food.
Dans Le Noir is a truly interesting experience in sensory deprivation, but the grub is underwhelming and bland. The restaurant would probably argue that because you’re denied sight, your other senses compensate and you appreciate the food in new and pleasurable ways, but this simply isn’t true: your senses are jumping all over the place, trying to adjust to an environment they’ve not experienced before, and it becomes altogether impossible to concentrate on the flavour.
In the end, this is probably what the restaurant want: the food is indubitably poor and the
waitress guide claims to “know nothing about wine” when queried about getting a new bottle. The experience is the event, the food is very much an afterthought, and the fact of the matter is that many punters will be so wrapped up in the former that they neglect to notice the impotence of the latter.