The concept is intriguing.
Dans Le Noir is a restaurant where you can’t see a thing, neither the people you’re dining with nor the food you’re eating. It’s probably the only restaurant in the world where you’re shown the menu after you finish eating. Choose from 4 surprise menus: meat, fish/seafood, vegetarian or ‘trust the chef’. It’s not cheap either, £54 for 3 courses, £74 includes an alcoholic drink with each meal and £99 for 5 courses with 5 accompanying beverages. We go for the £74 ‘Special Birthday Deal’, and choose the chef’s surprise menu.
Spoiler alert, the chef’s surprise menu is not a mix of the other three, as I wrongly assumed. It’s another category entirely, which should just be called what it is: exotic meats. You could be eating either kangaroo or crocodile, shark, Springbok or reindeer. But you won’t know which until after you’ve finished your meal.
The room is as advertised, pitch black.
No mobile phones, watches or light of any kind are allowed inside. Lockers are provided for storing these away before you’re escorted to your seat in a congo line. The waiters are blind, which makes sense, handing over your cutlery, beverages, and food with ease. In fact, the concept was founded in order to raise awareness about disability.
Somehow I hadn’t expected to eat with cutlery, especially when confronted with the challenge. If, after numerous attempts at stabbing the plate your fork still comes up empty, you might be tempted to eat with your hands. But this is no finger food. Wilted samphire, smoked purée, mash and poached halibut fillet really do require knife and fork. I was able to stab my scallop starter and nibble around it until it was the right size to pop into my mouth.
The main comes in three sections.
Like three conjoined bowls, which is supposed to help you navigate between the different foods. On my plate, I had smoked reindeer, crocodile pie, and halibut. Refusing to eat with my hands, I was left with just two of my senses, smell and taste. But the smell of this bizarre food combination was not at all inspiring, and really a missed opportunity to piqué the senses.
It’s not that the food was bad, it’s just badly thought out. What would have made the whole thing better would have been bite-sized finger food, no knife and fork, served like tapas. Also, before our starters we were given a basket of sliced white French baguette to pass around. At £74 a head, serving plain bread is sheer laziness. Instead of plain bread, how about cheese-filled dough balls or garlic bread or something else more interesting to smell and taste?
The trio of mains served together also defeats the purpose of trying to smell what you’re eating. Smelling fish while you’re eating steak isn’t the most appetizing. And rather than keep us guessing until the very end, I would have liked to know what each dish was before the next dish is brought out. Apparently, I ate crocodile, but I have no idea what it tasted like because it was all a mystery.
By the end of the meal, we were ready for the experience to be over.
Many diners use the dark as a cover, to put on fake accents or make silly noises and faces. All part of the Dans Le Noir fun. But I couldn’t help but think our jokes were in bad taste if the experience is supposed to give insight into being blind. Eating in the dark was more uncomfortable than I expected, and we all commented on how the alcohol made us dizzy after less than we’re used to. Stepping out into the light was really disorienting, as our eyes adjusted to the light.
While our waiter was fantastic, humorous and helpful, and we laughed all night, the consensus was that we wouldn’t go back. There is nothing attracting diners to return unless you’re taking people for the first time. The food is just not competitive enough for spending £74 in London. After all, it’s a restaurant, not a theatre show.
Dans Le Noir: 3-Course Surprise Menu