My friend Cleo, (blogger of soundmindtravel.com) went to Dans Le Noir (translation: In The Dark) restaurant in London a while ago and fully recommended the experience. And I do too. It’s a case of experiencing it yourself to fully understand it… but I’ll try and describe it anyway…
Strolling along to restaurant, we tried to act cool about the whole experience. Yet, seconds earlier, I had concerns that it wasn’t even open! Black-out curtains mask the windows, you see. Giving the place, a complete mysterious tone immediately. The entrance area does have light, luckily. We met the host, who explained how the evening would work and chose our food before entering the restaurant. I opted for a complete White, Blind Menu; my husband, a Red, Blind, Meat menu. So yes, not only could we not see what we were eating, but we weren’t going to know what we were eating either.
It was the small – normally insignificant – parts of the evening that were surprisingly difficult to me. Could walking into a restaurant and sitting down be difficult? It’s something you’d do whilst chatting, laughing, turning around to your dining companion, gazing at other diners even. This time, however, I had my hand on a blind waiter’s shoulder and my husband followed, with his hand on my shoulder, and we shuffled along in a “follow the leader” fashion.
We were taken to a shared table with one other couple, and a male dining alone. As the blind waiter, guided us to our exact seats, the three individuals greeted us and started to chatter and welcome us to the meal. I felt so overwhelmed at that point. I was trying to listen to them, reply appropriately – all whilst trying to pull my seat out, sit down and locate the items on the table: cutlery, wine glass, serviette etc. In the dark, this all felt incredibly difficult.
You couldn’t see anything. Not even a faint outline of people? You may ask. No… not a single shadow. Couldn’t you use your phone as a light? Well, no – because we had locked all belongings away in the entrance area. I can’t stress enough how dark it was. It was pitch, midnight, inky black. Much darker than I had predicted… even after reading my friend’s review.
Talking to strangers and trying to get to know them without seeing them, is the oddest thing. It becomes all about their voice and their words. We played some silly truth or lie games and got each other to describe their partner’s physical appearance. We spoke to the couple for almost an hour, then they left (they were at a later stage of the meal to us). And it was shocking to think, that we could see that couple anywhere on the street and we would have no idea it was them!
The actual eating was a challenge. My starter was quite straight forward – I managed to use my knife and fork and find the food on the plate quite easily! Simply, because, being a starter, there wasn’t much of it. The main was a little trickier. I had a ‘Mickey Mouse’ plate where each food item was in a different section. This enabled me to tell the difference between each food product on the plate, but it made it harder to use the cutlery. Plus, I kept finding sections of the plate untouched! For this reason, my husband and I both resorted to using our hands like toddlers. Yes, it was disgusting and animalistic, but it was the only way to ensure we ate everything. The plus side, of course, was no one could see!
Interestingly, the male diner on our table was a novelist writing a book about someone with heightened senses. He told us that he ate at the restaurant regularly for research. Naturally, I was fascinated by this conversation and he was the one who initiated the ‘truth and lie’ games, as he seemed to pick up interesting ways to get to know people in the dark! Furthermore, we got to meet him at the end of the meal and had a drink with him in the bar. I was so confident it was him, simply due to his voice. I went over and flashed my grey-painted nails at him (a truth from the game) and we laughed about the fact that my husband didn’t have black hair (a clear lie).
The bar area was fantastic and experimented with the importance of other senses too. There was a silent disco and sign language booklets to help you order cocktails. Plus, they gave us colour photograph menus, so we could see what we ate. I guessed most right apart from the meat. I want to keep the secret of the blind menu.. but my “beef”was something a little more obscure!
In all seriousness, this experience was really inspiring. Those waiters – and all blind and visually-impaired people – have such huge obstacles to overcome every day. And they do it. It’s important to appreciate something that we take for granted. I was impressed with myself that meal for pouring a glass of water! It’s nothing compared to some people’s daily life. But they don’t want pity; they want understanding. And you can understand… even if it’s just for the time it takes you to eat a meal. The restaurant keep many blind and visually-impaired people in employment and links with many charities too.
I urge you to go and “not see” for yourself: it will truly open your eyes!