Dans Le Noir is a restaurant with an incredible concept - you eat in pitch black darkness. I've known about it for years, they started in Paris, and now there are several around the world, including London. It was only recently, however, that I got round to visiting.
Located just off Clerkenwell Green just up from Farringdon, the place looks relatively unassuming from the outside, and I'd cycled past many times without noticing it being there. Inside, there is a smallish front-room bar, where one is greeted by staff who explain how everything works.
First up, you are requested to dump any bags and especially anything that potentially gives off light - phones, lighters etc, into lockers. This done, one examines the menus. Except that there's no detail - the choice is either the complete surprise menu, the meat surprise menu, the fish surprise menu, or the vegetarian surprise menu. The wine list is more normal, unless one goes for the "surprise bottle" of course!
I went for the fish surprise, my partner in the dark culinary arts Cat, the complete surprise. And of course the surprise (red) wine. This all done, it was time to head in. We were introduced to our semi-blind waiter Derek. I realised he wasn't completely blind when he responded as I proffered my hand to shake as we met, he shook. The waiters are all blind or partially blind though, the logic being that they are much more competent in complete darkness, plus part of the ethic of the restaurant is to support people with this sort of disability.
To go in, one has to hold the shoulders of the person in front of you, and the group is lead in through a series of curtains into the dining room, with the waiter at the front guiding you. Cue lots of excitement as ones eyes attempt to adjust. This, of course, is impossible, it is completely pitch black. Doesn't stop you trying though.
The dining room
Your waiter helps you to sit, which is a rather clumsy affair, then explains that in front of you on the table is a napkin with a knife and fork, and two glasses, large and small, for water and wine respectively. Regular knife and fork?! I assumed there would be simple spoon-like implements, but no!
Anyway shortly after, we were brought a carafe of water and our bottle of wine. I went to pour the wine. First, locate glass. Right, then hold up glass, fumble with wine bottle, then slowly pour, listening intently for the liquid to start flowing. By the time the bottle was horizontal, I knew something was up. Of course, the bottle was a screw-cap and the cap was still on. Doh!
Then of course, you have the problem of deciding how much to pour in. The tip is to place a finger just inside the rim as you pour, but it's still bloomin' difficult. Wine and water poured, we waited for food. Whilst waiting, we tried to lay out our table. Surely they wouldn't seat anyone else immediately adjacent to us (we could feel their glasses and napkins). Wrong! As we started, a Russian couple living in London were seated immediately next to us. I apologised for having stolen one of their glasses as I'd misplaced mine!
In pitch black people seem to over-compensate by talking louder, and this was certainly the case this evening. There was a loud group to my left, and a group the other side who burst into a rendition of happy birthday at one point. I can only assume the room has wooden floors and bare walls as the sound really seem to bounce about, and the whole place was intimidatingly noisy later on. Maybe not being able to see makes you more aurally sensitive?
So the food arrived, and a plate is stuck in front of you. Knife and fork up, then an embarrassing prodding game around the plate to scope the task ahead! I hadn't washed my hands before coming in, which was a big mistake, you need hands involved just to find the food, never mind eat it! Time after time I would raise my fork only to find that whatever I'd pushed on to it had returned to plate without me realising, and at one point my napkin was covered in a creamy sauce, thankfully not ending up on my clothes!
The food was good, but too salty in my opinion. Either Cat is a fast eater, or she seemed to have much less food than me, or perhaps, like with my main course, she missed a whole section on her plate - I found a pile of mussels late on that I'd completely missed early on!
By the end of the meal, frankly, I'd had enough of being in there, although Cat seemed to be enjoying it! We chatted to the Russian couple adjacent, they were here on a 5 year anniversary dinner, awwww! Outside we met face to face, as we squinted, adjusting to the glorious but dim (for the sake of those coming out!) light.
They show you the menu, and I discovered that I hadn't been too far off with my guesses, although apparently one of Cat's dishes that she had guessed was some sort of seafood was apparently kangaroo!! How did that happen?! I was amused to learn that the bottle of wine that I thought was a Malbec and Cat a Shiraz was of course... a Malbec-Shiraz! Half marks to each of you!
Tips all go to the blind waiters, and overall I like the ethic of the place. It would be fascinating to see the actual dining room though, just to understand the dimensions of the place. I guess I'll never know! Anyway, it's a very random and fun experience that I'd thoroughly recommend people visiting if they want something different. Will I go back? Err, probably not!