30-31 Clerkenwell Green,
Many of the things a review would normally focus on are rendered arbitrary the moment you enter the dining room in Dans le Noir. As the name suggests, at this restaurant, diners experience their meal in total darkness. What was the décor like? Who knows! The walls could have been tartan.
We spoke to the manager, Dominique, before going into the dining room. He explained to us that the concept of Dans le Noir was to create a new power balance. In everyday life, people who can see have the advantage over people who cannot. At Dans le Noir all the waiting staff are blind and know the dining room well. Visitors, on the other hand, are unable to navigate the room without help. He told us that many celebrities, including Prince William, have dined there because they can enjoy a meal in public without being recognised. “*Everybody is equal in the dark.*”
Our waiter, Thomas, had his work cut out for him that night. Not only was he waiting on several tables, but he was also training a new waiter, Trevor. The fact that he could do all this, while we sat there getting in a fluster when we couldn’t feel where our cutlery was goes to show that the power balance is successfully changed once in the dining room.
An interesting thing about eating in the dark is that is it impossible to ignore what is going on around you. When dining in a normal restaurant, you probably never think to say a word to the people sitting nearby. At Dans le Noir, however, when you can’t even see who is sitting near you, it suddenly becomes very important to find out. Thomas sat us at a table with some other people. We had to throw a question into the air to find this out for sure, “*Is there anyone else sitting here?!*” It turned out we were sitting with a couple from Dubai who were in England for a week long trip (not Prince William sadly). After a few minutes of talking to them, we played a phenomenally unsuccessful game of guessing what each other looked like. All wrong on all accounts. Beyond our table, there was a great sense of camaraderie in the dining room as a whole. Twice people sang “*Happy Birthday*”, and everybody joined in. Twice we heard the sound of a glass of a piece of cutlery falling to the floor, and everybody applauded.
As for the food, you are not told what is on the menu before you start, you are simply given a choice between meat, fish, vegetarian, or surprise. I went for the surprise and my guest went for meat, thinking that we could share and swap notes. Sharing food in the dark of course is no mean feat. We kept having to instruct each other, “*I’ve got some meat here for you! I’m going to hold it up above the table!*” This would be followed by careful groping of the air, until contact was made. We laughed at one point at the thought of what would happen if they suddenly turned on the lights... Would everybody be holding meat up in that air like this? Would people be surreptitiously licking their plates?
It is amazing how difficult it is to tell what you are eating. The power of suggestion plays such a huge role. When we were presented with our dessert, the man next to us, who had already eaten his, told us to look forward to the alcoholic sorbet. As a result of this, when I tried the sorbet I expected it to taste of alcohol and it did. Only when we finished our meal and went back into the light did we find out that actually it was nothing of the sort. Misconception was the motif of the evening. The lady from Dubai and myself had the surprise main course. She thought it has a fishy quality, I thought it was pork. It turned out to be part zebra steak, part kangaroo.
Dans le Noir is one of the weirdest places you will ever find yourself – a very recommended experience. It is so liberating to be anonymous, to be able to talk to strangers, to eat with your elbows on the table, to pick up a great big piece of meat with your fingers and bite into it with no-one looking.
**Reviewed by: **Emily Boyd