How do you begin with an experience such as Dans Le Noir? Translating literally to ‘in the black’, Dans Le Noir is a sensory eating experience like no other. Seated in the pitch black, with a menu of surprises, it isn’t an average meal out, that’s for sure. The underlying ethos of Dans Le Noir? is to create a “A sensory journey helping us to re-evaluate our perception of taste and smell.”
Sam and I entered the Clerkenwell restaurant foyer full of curiosity and nervous anticipation. As far as foyers go, it’s fairly nondescript, but the excitement begins to build as we’re seated briefly and asked to select our menu. Opting one for the ‘surprise’ menus; red for meat, blue for seafood, green for vegetarian and white for total surprise, my lovely dinner companion for the evening selects the red option whilst I figure that throwing all caution to the winds is the craziest option, and ask for the white menu. I’m a foolhardy foodie, me. The serving lady asks for any dietary requirements or food we can’t eat (me, none; my dinner date, no pork) before reassuring us that it wasn’t a problem and gesturing us towards the bank of lockers.
After locking away our glowing worldly goods, one of their blind waiting staff rests my rights hand on their shoulder, and congas leads us through blackout several curtains. It gets darker and darker, and before we know it the known world drops from our gaze. Guiding us around a bevy of unseen chairs and tables, we’re seated by our smooth as silk waiter. Comfortably against a wall, we giggle nervously, feeling our way around the table. Napkin, knife, fork, tumblers and water jug. All exactly where they should be.
It feels weird.
Shortly our server returns, each time announcing his presence and checking we’re still ok, to softly land plates of surprising texture and taste. We’re both talking a little bit louder to each other, both in excitement, and as the room begins to fill up with other people. It’s surreal to say the least – at least 20 other people are sitting in the same space as us, but they seem like a strange dream as their voices drift over in fits and starts. We eat with a combination of fingers and utensils, guessing at each kind of texture but having no clue really as to what we’re eating, and hesitantly pour glasses of water using the tips of our fingers to avoid overfilling the glass. The whole way through our server encourages us to call if we need anything – more wine, a cheesy joke or simply to be led out if we feel uncomfortable.
We muse over the incredible insanity of what we’re doing – totally deprived of light, our eyes can’t be fooled by the chef-fy presentation tricks used in deceiving the senses, but concentrate solely on the food and textures in front of us. Both of our meals have a combination of fascinating flavours – our mains consisting of 3 gourmet sized portions (one seafood, one game meat, one fowl) which further had us second-guessing what we were tasting. Bar the noise levels of the other guests being rather loud, and the meals being slightly too cold we both loved the theatrical experience and spent a good hour discussing our meals over mint tea once we had emerged in the upstairs bar. Spying the reveal menu over our payment, we were relieved to find that our guesses were fairly spot-on on most counts, though dessert had puzzled us in many ways.
In truth, we left with more questions than we arrived with.
Does the food taste better or worse when you have no idea what it is?
Is it avant-garde or exotically gimmicky?
How did we manage to guide the forks to our mouths?
Is it possible to even write a restaurant review without mentioning any of the dishes?
Would we do this again? Yes, in a heartbeat.