Never before have I heard the question “is that the table leg, or you?” (giggle) so much in one sitting; I knew from the outset that Dans Le Noir was going to be a memorable experience.
Dans Le Noir is truly like no other restaurant I’ve ever be to before, and frankly, unlike anything I will ever probably go to again. In simple terms, diners are served three surprise courses in pitch darkness, served by visually impaired staff. Just a short walk from Farringdon station, Dans Le Noir is a recipe (see what I did there?) to heighten the senses, not to mention give a great platform to meet new people and have a blast in the process.
You may well be familiar with the concept of Dans Le Noir, if like me, you quite like the romcom About Time, in which Ron Weasley’s oldest brother charms actress Rachel McAdams over dinner in the darkness of the restaurant. I say charms, it’s more of a wooing. I didn’t meet any socially awkward English gentleman (no, that would have been me), nor did I woo Rachel McAdams on this particular visit, but Dans Le Noir would certainly prove to guarantee a memorable and lifelong memory nonetheless.
The Dans Le Noir experience starts at the front-door; a dimly-lit reception, adorned by blacked-out windows, gives the only restbite from the darkness of the restaurant, where guests are welcomed and provided with locker facilities to remove the unwelcome distraction (and light) given off by mobile phones. It’s all about an off-grid experience whilst also forgoing the risk and awkwardness of fumbling for your iPhone in the darkness and accidentally stroking the leg of the diner next to you. Not that I ever needed the excuse of poor lighting to do this, of course, but that’s for another time.
With the meat-and-fish, meat-only and vegetarian menus perused and selected, diners are escorted by a visually-impaired waiter in a conga-style-one-hand-on-the-person-in-front’s-shoulder out of the main reception and through two sets of blackout curtains into what as may well be the abyss; this isn’t like turning down the lights and drawing the curtains kinda dark, we’re talking DARK DARK. Nothing. Nada. Pitch black.
I must admit that, initially, I found this quite an overwhelming and daunting experience, struggling to adjust to the the sensory assault of losing visual cues, although this did start to subside once our waiter had guided us, safely, to our table. It felt surreal, my heightened senses picking up on a gentle draft from the air-conditioning as waiters made their way around the darkness whilst eavesdropping on conversations taking place, quietly, around the room on other tables; “I’ll pass you the wine on the left, darling”, “give me your hand” and “I’ll prop this plate on my boobs so I don’t spill anything”.
I snuck a few photos in to really demonstrate the fully immersive experience that the darkness in Dans Le Noir provides.
First up, a selfie with my stunningly beautiful co-diner:
The mouthwatering first-course delivered to the table:
Here I am inside the restaurant, completely naked, juggling on one leg whilst displaying my debit card details, including security pin and mother’s maiden name:
I suspect you get the point…
After a few uncomfortable minutes and reassurances from my fellow diner and waiter, I slowly overcame my initial displeasure of the darkness and vulnerability, switching my focus to consider about the practicalities of dining in the dark. How would I manage with cutlery? How would I cope with something potentially messy to eat? How would I pour anything without missing the glass or overfilling it? All very valid concerns but merely everyday life to visually-impaired diners in restaurants we all frequent, day in, day out. Fortunately, I worked out a few hacks to facilitate my dining experience, such as using my thumb to find the top of a bottle and a finger to check the level poured into a glass. I’ll be honest, I also ate with my hands for one particular course as I realised it would be somewhat easier… and nobody would see, anyway.
We found great pleasure in getting to know the tables around us, locked in conversation and quips about our shared experiences as our inhibitions lowered. Amazing that in central London such behaviour would typically be frowned upon in any other restaurant setting. Part of the fun in this was trying to visualise what our fellow diners looked like, knowing full well we probably would never seen them in the light of day.
I reflected on each course as it arrived, the flavours varied and complex, studying the textures of each food item and trying to guess with my guest as to what we were eating. The surprise menu at £46pp wasn’t cheap and ultimately didn’t really reflect on it’s quality, neither was the ‘surprise’ Lilt-tasting cocktail at £14 something I went mad for, but this was more about the experience of darkness than a culinary masterpiece. It was a great surprise at the end of the evening, having been gently ushered out into an upstairs bar at the end of the service to see what we had been served; without spoiling the surprise (because it’s top secret), it was interesting that some textures we had identified weren’t quite what we had expected them to be.
Dans Le Noir – Final Thoughts
I expected Dans Le Noir to be gimmicky, I didn’t expect to enjoy it in the slightest. However, after getting over my initial fears of the sheer brutal darkness and dealing with the sensory assault that followed as a consequence, it was actually a fabulous evening, liberating and definitely something that I would’t forget in a hurry. I must admit though, I was rather pleased to see daylight at the end of the evening.
I applaud the restaurant for employing visually impaired staff and raising awareness of everyday life for those who are partially sighted or completely blind, however the bill north of £125.00, without wine, was a little much to stomach. This experience will cost you.
Dining in the darkness for sure forced me to re-evaluate my relationship with my food, the conversation with my fellow diner and the interactions with our waiter and the other visitors around us, and for that, I would recommend you visit. Dinner without distractions proves to be a more intimate experience, with or without sight. It’s a mind-boggling and unique sensory experience that you truly have to
see try for yourself.
If you liked the novelty factor of this review, you may enjoy my post on London’s best rooftop bars, some of which are only a short hop from Dans Le Noir. Similarly, recent posts on OXO Tower Brasserie and Searcys at The Gherkin showcase some great alternative fine dining options in London!