Dining ‘Dans le Noir’ in London

Dans le noir

In theory, the idea of eating in the dark may be polarizing. I’m not talking about a midnight raid of the fridge following some nocturnal hunger pangs, I’m talking about a fine dining experience that is devoid of any lighting. One argument may be that a lack of visual stimuli causes the body to heighten the crucial sense of taste and smell when eating, an opposing claim may be that there is great pleasure that comes in viewing your food – both in the sense that there is pleasure in seeing what you are about to devour, and in the sense that many modern purveyors of cuisine apply a certain level of artistry when presenting their dishes. The restaurant I’m talking about subscribes to the former school of thought – that banquets in the blackness truly have their advantages. The name of said restaurant is ‘Dans le Noir’, which in french means ‘In the dark’ and it is situated in the area of Clerkenwell in London.

Although the name of the establishment is indeed ‘in the dark’ – their mantra is surprisingly one of ‘illumination’. 

The restaurant claims to help a diner ‘re-evaluate the notions of taste and smell through our gastronomic and pedagogical process’, whether or not you will feel leaving ‘enlightened’ is debatable, but my  consensus is that Dans le Noir is a novel environment that may attract attention with its unconventional methods but undoubtedly maintains such attention with a rewarding and indeed – delicious – dining experience. Furthermore Dans le Noir prides itself on the quality of its organic ingredients, choosing to utilise the most robust flavours in order maximise the effect of ‘blind eating’.

HISTORY

As Dans le Noir propagates the sensation of ‘blind dining’ and hires blind staff to facilitate the experience, it is no surprise that it found its origins as the offshoot of France’s second biggest blindness organisation. In 1997, the Paul Guinot foundation endeavoured to give the wider public an insight to what dining is like to a blind person and so established a program named ‘Le gout du noir’ (a taste of the blind). These meals were served in a non-permanent restaurant and were the creation of the prominent producer, writer and director Michel Reilhac. With such an unorthodox premise supported by such a prolific figure in the entertainment industry, it is no surprise that ‘Dans le Noir’ quickly amassed great media attention. In fact, Reilhac was quickly tasked to produce the first television set in complete darkness (albeit shot in infrared).

With the explosion of ‘blind experiences’ in the global zeitgeist, Dans le Noir soon came into fruition.

The restaurant was founded by Edouard de Broglie and Etienne Boisrond in Paris in 2004 with the aid of the aforementioned Paul Guinot foundation bringing awareness to the effects of blindness full circle. Since 2004, there are Dans le Noir restaurants, spas and events across the globe in cities such as Paris, New York, Barcelona and London.

ITINERARY

Dans le noir people

Dans le Noir is also presented as a social experience and recommends that guests arrive in couples or large groups, claiming that total darkness is a powerful vehicle to loosen one’s inhibitions and create a more jovial atmosphere. Besides the enhances that are to be found when tasting your food, Dans le Noir in fact claims that a temporary loss of vision also enables you to open your mind to a ‘new world of mystery and sensation’, where imagination replaces vanity.

The Dans le Noir experience begins when you enter the welcome bar and lounge. As these areas are in fact lit, it is where all vital preparation  prior to the meal takes place. This includes both the process of taking orders and an introductory talk outlining the necessary dining protocols. Typically, (although there are sometimes special holiday menus) the menus you can choose from are divided into four categories (all of which are penned as ‘surprise menus’). The reason they are named as such is that the restaurant wants to take advantage of the mystery of a lightless dining room, allowing the customer to fully engage their taste buds when attempting to identify the mystery food. Rest assured, although the menu is a secret, delight and appreciation of the cuisine is a commonly shared reaction.

In addition to the selection of the menu, their is a rather unorthodox method when it comes to choosing the wine. As the whole premise of a surprise menu restricts any knowledge of what you’ll be eating, it is rather difficult to attempt to match your wine accordingly. The solution at Dans le Noir is to ask for a budget to how much your would like to spend on wine, and the resident sommelier, Christophe Garnier will endeavor to compliment your meal with an equally surprising glass of wine.

After the completion of both your menu and wine selection, you will be met by a guide whom will subsequently prompt you to the dark room.

The effect is far from disconcerting, rather there is a haunting poeticism to be had as you enter the unknown and a humbling aspect as you realise that life without sight is a reality for many.

As you take a seat in the dark room, you are introduced to your guide/waiter whom will assist your group for the duration of your meal.

MENU

 

Dans le noir menu

As previously mentioned, the actual food at Dans le Noir is categorised by four surprise menus; these are called the ‘white’ (exotic), ‘blue’ (seafood), ‘red’  (meat) and green (vegetarian) menus, and so offer little information on what is actually served. Furthermore, as the content of the menus change so frequently, it is hard for me describe what you would be served upon your visit. What is always the same however, is a respect for fresh products including line-caught fish, free-range and grass-fed meats and the best of organic vegetables. Dishes at Dans le Noir are often uncomplicated – rather than focusing on intricate cooking techniques and subtle flavours you are not in the position to appreciate, the attention is on the depth of taste in each element of the meal – distinct but thoughtfully selected to compliment the entirety of the meal.

Simply, Dans le Noir achieves what it sets out to do, it promotes an experience that is beyond vision, the other senses excel in its absence: taste is heightened, and the vulnerability that comes with simulated blindness makes you appreciate every nuance of your meal, and your company to a much greater extent.