Photo source: https://saminaik.com/tag/dans-le-noir/
I first found out about Dans le Noir? from the movie “About Time.” In it, Rachel McAdams’s character meets Domnhall Gleeson’s in a restaurant where diners eat in pitch-black. There are no night vision goggles, no candle lights, nothing. In the space between you and everything else, there is only pure darkness.
I visited the one featured in the film, in London. My friend Cherie and I got to choose from four pre-set menus: meat, seafood, vegetarian, and surprise. I chose surprise.
Our blind waiter, Darren, was smiling by the hallway to the entrance of the dark room. All waiters in the restaurant are blind since they are able to navigate more effectively in the dark. I put my hand on Cherie’s shoulder, she put her’s on Darren’s, and he led us past a heavy felt cloth through a tunnel where light ceased to exist.
The sound of people chatting, of spoons and forks tapping, began to increase in a crescendo. Noise enveloped me. We sat down on our table, and at once I felt attacked by the darkness. I blinked my eyes, then blinked them again, and registered absolutely no difference between the millisecond my eyes closed and the heartbeats that passed when they were not. I lost the world and it, me.
“You can do this,” Darren said.
When I got my first dish, I didn’t bother with the cutlery. I picked the plate up to my nose – it smelled like the sea. The food was fine to the touch, cold and soft. Little pieces fumbled in the heap between my fingers and on my tongue. Crab.
Beside us sat a couple we couldn’t see. He complained about work, about trying to call the waiter and getting no response, and made a joke out of it. She laughed. It was contrived.
The second dish was a little more tricky. My hands roamed around the platter, identifying three crevasses. I grabbed from the left and it tasted like fish. I grabbed from the right and it tasted like beef. I grabbed from the middle. Beef again?
I tried the one from the right again. This time it tasted like lamb. I tried the one in the middle. Chicken. My tongue was deceiving me. Another sense down the drain. Maybe my tongue was never a star among my senses. Maybe it was only a sidekick, the Robin to my sight. After eliminating lamb from the meats, I settled on beef and chicken. My palate knew nothing else.
They took dish away, and in my little corner of the dining space, I became curious as to what was around me. Was there a wall? A seat? Another human? I reached out with my left hand, and felt some padded cloth. A shoulder, I thought. Or a jacket on a chair. As I began to tell Cherie what I did, Darren came by.
“Is everything okay?” I nodded, said yes. Darren reached for my hand and told me I had touched his behind. “That hasn’t happened to me before.”
Cherie couldn’t laughing. Darren couldn’t stop joking about it. I couldn’t stop thanking God they couldn’t see how red my face was. This time, time ceased to exist.
Finally, our last dish came. It was light and sweet, like flowers and the tropics. I let it linger in my mouth, let the softness of the pudding melt any grime away. It was a pretty way to end the night.
We went outside and I could finally see again. But it didn’t feel like an awakening or revival – it didn’t feel like I needed to see again. I had become comfortable with the dark and I emerged to the light feeling normal. Then I found out the two meat dishes I had eaten were zebra and kangaroo. I suppose I couldn’t complain; I asked for it.
Like the meal, the night was full of surprises. I didn’t know what I was going to get, didn’t realize the things I would do, but the black pulled out colors I didn’t know existed. When people ask me how my experience went, I tell them that everyone can expect the darkness to be the same. But how each person reacts—the conversations let into the void, the senses discovered and let free—those will be their own.
Starter: Crab and red apple mayonnaise with cucumber and courgette gazpacho and watermelon foam; Mascarpone and biscuit
Main: Pan-fried Kangaroo fillet served with fresh green beans and spinach sauce; Rainbow Trout dusted on rhubarb compote and baby poached carrots; Roasted Zebra with yogurt and mint sauce served on a bed of couscous
Dessert: Rose water panna cotta with watermelon syrup served with papaya, melon, and chili chutney
Dans le Noir? is a chain of restaurants in cities including Paris, London, and Barcelona. Guests can choose among four menus: the two-course (£46), three-course (£54), degustation (£72), and tasting (£89). Book in advance to guarantee seats.