Sunday, 13 May 2018

Dans le Noir? – An Adventure in Blind Eating


dans le noir melbourne
Can you imagine eating a five course meal in total darkness?

When it comes to food I’m obsessed. I love getting out there and enjoying food in new ways. Whether it’s learning to cook in Bali, devouring a thirty course tasting menu in Barcelona or the eating a 50p bowl of Pho on the side of a road in Vietnam clinging on to a child sized plastic stool for dear life.

You get the picture.

Anything that involves eating and most importantly experiencing food - I’m in.

So from the moment that I heard Dans le Noir was opening it’s first dining in the dark experience in Melbourne in my mind I’d already clocked out of whatever it was I was doing and started masterminding my trip.

Dans le Noir? (yes intentional question mark!) is a concept first started in Paris in 1997 with the help of Paul Guinot, a blind foundation in France. The first restaurant was opened without any investor or charity support, staffed primarily by those with visual impairments. Today, you can find Dans le Noir in major cities around the world.

The Restaurant

Hidden away in The Como Melbourne (and I mean hidden – we were 15 minutes late for dinner because we couldn’t find it and I have a terrible sense of direction!) we made our way to the foyer of the restaurant. When you arrive you’re given the choice of a three or five course menu, which can be either meat based, fish based or vegetarian/vegan friendly.

We opted for the five courses ($115) on the meat based menu with five surprise complimentary wines ($50). You can also choose surprise mocktails or cocktails or just individual surprise wines. Everything is a surprise until you get in there. Although even then, despite your unabashed confidence, you still have no clue.

When all the diners had arrived we were introduced to Callan our waiter for the night. He assured us we were in safe hands and instructed us all to hold on to the person in front’s shoulders.  And that was the last time I ever saw my boyfriend (*cough* for the next hour and a half *cough*).

The Experience

I’d done my reading. I read reviews on Facebook, the Dans le Noir? website, Google – you name it (review reading is a favourite past time of mine) - but I’m telling you now nothing can prepare you for the eerie darkness of a pitch black room until you’re in it.

Even though you know there’s nothing to look for your eyes wildly dart across the room looking for a source of light or a sign of familiarity. After a brief few seconds of realising the reality of what the next couple of hours were going to hold I’m not going to lie there was an “oh, crap!” moment. I'm told that’s totally normal though.

We were seated around a large table alongside the other diners in our session.  Once I found what I hope was my boyfriend’s hand across the table I began to relax. Whatever I was feeling or about to experience he was in it with me too. And, unlike me who’d had weeks to carry out my anxious research, he’d found out moments before we were led into a black abyss by complete strangers as I was adamant on keeping the date a surprise. 

When the shock has worn off you’re left with a newfound appreciation for those who don’t have the choice of eating in the dark one night if they fancy it. For some people this is their every day life. Basic things like pouring a glass of water became mammoth tasks, but hey, at least I gave the table a good wash!

dans le noir

The Food

As we'd opted for a five course meal we started our night with an Amuse Bouche. We both confidently agreed we were eating scallops and the dish was easy enough to eat with no sight. As the night went on it became harder and harder to distinguish what we were eating. Hearing other diners guess what they're eating throws you off. Your own mind begins to play tricks on you. Sight is such a huge part of taste and you don't realise that 'til you're inspecting the texture of lentils between your finger tips wondering how you've ended up reverting back to childhood eating habits in a restaurant full of people.

A big indicator of what we were eating were the wines that accompanied the dish. We knew red meant dark meat. White meant light meat or fish - other than that you really just have to take your best guess based on your existing knowledge of things you've eaten in the past.

I was pretty proud that despite the fact I couldn't see I'd managed to eat everything with my fork (although someone did find a chunk of meat on the table whoops... no idea how that got there...). On the other hand my boyfriend decided to forgo cutlery and when one of the poor servers came to collect our empty plates she got an unexpected palmful of all the past 5 dishes.

Reflection

When we'd finally finished eating and it was time to leave I was surprised to find my eyes had adjusted to our new way of life. I was glad to be going back into the light all the same though. We were all gathered round and given a chance to guess what we'd eaten and drunk throughout the evening. Before all was finally revealed. I'd say we got about 75% right though there were definitely a few curve balls!

The experience of eating at Dans le Noir? was like nothing I've ever done before and one that made me incredible grateful. The servers and all the staff were incredibly knowledgable and friendly. I was amazed that over half the people that worked there were visually impaired and felt honoured to have been able to share a little bit of their world. I got to try food I wouldn't have normally ordered. But most of all I was grateful for the chance to try something new and lose our inhibitions, even if only for a couple of hours.

Read similar: Adelphi Kitchen Review

What about you guys? Where have you eaten that has been an interesting experience? Where would you recommend eating where you live? Let me know!

Image sources: Dans le Noir?
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