I’m not sure when I first heard of dining in the dark, but ever since that long-ago moment, the concept has intrigued me. Like so many experiences, I planned to try it out “next time we’re in London” but it never quite happened.
Luckily, my brother Simon lives in London, so there have been plenty of “next visits” — and on my most recent one, we finally made it happen by visiting Dans Le Noir ?. (That’s “in the dark,” in case you were wondering.)
Into the dark at Dans Le Noir ?
On arrival, we were met by a friendly member of staff, who instructed us to leave our coats and phones and anything containing a light in the lockers to one side of the bar. Then, we were led upstairs and passed on to our waiter for the evening, Ghow.
I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say that Ghow was the best waiter I’ve ever had. Attentive, kind, patient, happy to tell us about himself and his experience as one of the restaurant’s blind waiters. Of course, at least part of my love for Ghow has to stem from the fact that we were all completely dependent on him — after all, we were dining in the dark.
We’d been placed in the private upstairs dining area, which was cozy and pleasant and shared with another family: Shirley and Eric and their adult sons William and Mike. It was William’s birthday, so halfway through the meal we all joined in a rousing rendition of “happy birthday to you” and William was presented with a cake. I think.
They’d started their meal half an hour or so before us, and Ghow led them out of the dining room while we were still eating. It was strange to have spent a pleasant hour in the company of a group of people, and yet never have seen their faces… we’ll probably never know what they looked like!
Eating and drinking
Of course, we weren’t there just to make invisible friends; we were also there to eat. Ghow learned our names in record time, and was soon passing us water, bread, cocktails. My first attempt to pour a glass of water was not a success — I’d left the lid on the bottle — but at least it was better than Eric’s. He’d managed to drench half the table, apparently, before we arrived.
Soon, our starters arrived, on shape-coded plates. We’d had the choice between four options: red for meat, green for vegetarian, blue for seafood, or white for “trust the chef”. Craig’s seafood starter arrived on a pear-shaped plate; my chef’s-choice entrée was on a round one. Our dinner companions, Simon and Katie, had both gone with the meat option and received their first course on square plates.
Eating with a knife and fork while not being able to see what you’re spearing is quite difficult; Katie gave up entirely and just used her hands. Simon persevered, but was a bit worried what effect this had had on the cleanliness of his shirt. (Turns out, it was fine.)
The main course was spectacular. The three compartments of our plates were each filled with a meal in miniature; I identified fish, a red meat, and something that didn’t seem to fit into the standard categories, accompanied by sauces, vegetables, and other accompaniments.
You’re not told what you’re eating; the idea is to guess and find out the answer later, when you’re given the menu back in the light. We all guessed some correctly, but by no means completely — each course contains such complexity that it would be impossible to guess it all. Since the set menus are seasonal, I’m not going to give anything away — you might like to go and be surprised for yourself. However, everything was delicious and Katie was pleased to have tried a flavour or two that she’d always been wary of ordering
On the whole, the experience was spectacular. The only negative was that the wine served with the main course wasn’t quite to my liking, and while I think it was a wise idea to serve it in tumblers rather than stemware, it wasn’t quite the same! However, the cocktail we had with the entree and the dessert wine were both very nice and complemented the meal well.
Out of the dark
After dessert Ghow arranged us into a line; and, hands on shoulders, we made our way back to the light. We’d had an awesome time, and I’m certainly keen to visit again. Perhaps next time I’m in London!
Note: we had the degustation menu, which costs £74 and includes three courses and three alcoholic drinks. Packages start at £46. We were provided with complimentary vouchers by Dans Le Noir ?, but all opinions are my own. Also, photos are for illustrative purposes only — it was completely dark in there!