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.
When making your booking, you’re asked to choose from 4 surprise menus: meat, fish/seafood, vegetarian or ‘trust the chef’ priced at £54 for 3 courses. £74 includes an alcoholic drink with each meal and £99 for 5 courses with 5 accompanying beverages. We chose the £74 ‘Special Birthday Deal’ and the chef’s surprise menu.
Spoiler alert, you might think that the chef’s surprise menu is a mix of the other three. It’s not. It’s another category entirely, which should just be called what it is: exotic meats. So you could be eating either kangaroo, crocodile, shark, Springbok or reindeer, but you won’t know what you’ve had until after you’ve finished your meal.
The dining room is 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 all blind, which makes service in this environment that much easier. In fact, the concept was originally founded in order to raise awareness about disability.
Somehow, I hadn’t expected to eat in the dark with cutlery. 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 a knife and fork. I was able to stab my pieces of food and nibble around until it was the right size to pop into my mouth.
The food is served in three conjoined bowls, which is supposed to help you navigate between the different sections. On my plate there was smoked reindeer, crocodile pie, and halibut, but of course, I didn’t know that. 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.
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 made it difficult to rely on my senses to figure out when I was eating. Apparently, I ate crocodile, but I have no idea what it tasted like because it was all a mystery.
It’s not that the food was bad, it’s just badly thought out. To give another example, before our starters, we were given a basket of sliced white French baguette to pass around – with no accompaniment. At £74 a head, being served plain bread felt like a rip-off. Instead, how about cheese-filled dough balls or garlic bread or anything more interesting to smell and taste? Overall, what could have made the whole experience better would have been bite-sized finger food, no knife and fork, served like tapas.
Eating in the dark was a lot more uncomfortable than I expected. Even the alcohol made us dizzier faster than what we’re used to. Stepping out into the light afterward was really disorienting, as our eyes adjusted.
Many diners also 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.
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. And I can think of many other places I’d rather spend £74 in London.
Dans Le Noir: 3-Course Surprise Menu