Dans Le Noir, located in the charming area of Clerkenwell in Islington, is certainly a restaurant like no other. Instead of your usual sit down meal, brave diners are led into a completely blackened room and are subsequently served by visually impaired waiters, all whilst sharing a table with other guests.
Dished up on the menu are four different surprise set meals. These include the ‘trust the chef’ white menu, comprising of an exotic selection of meat and seafood, the red menu of meat-based dishes, the blue menu of pescatarian dishes and finally the vegetarian or vegan green menu.
Entering the restaurant
On arrival, we are introduced to our waiter and saviour of the evening, Friars. Clearly sensing our apprehension, Friars explains the next steps calmly – we are to hold on to his right shoulder to be lead to our tables. We brush through thick curtains and then suddenly, a cloak of darkness. Blinking frequently, the attempt to adjust to the darkness or to seek out any shimmer of light fails as expected. The rest of our senses are unsurprisingly heightened – a cacophony of giggling echoes throughout the seemingly expansive room.
Friars helps us place our arms onto the back of our chairs and we clumsily seat ourselves. There is a loud clatter and a fork has already been dropped – so far so good!
There is chatter either side of us.
“Hello, is there someone there?” a female voice speaks out from the left.
We are soon deep in discussion with the Canadian couple next to us, who are visiting London for the weekend. The chatter is a welcome distraction from the surreality of the experience and before we have even received our starters we are openly exchanging in-depth tales of our lives. On our right-hand side, a well-spoken British couple can be heard in conversation with the pair next to them. It is too overwhelming to attempt more than one conversation in such darkness, we decide.
‘I’m going to give you your starters and place your glasses of wine in your hands now. Some people like to use their hands to eat. Ok?’ Friars is beside us and his presence is once again comforting.
Two bowls are placed onto the table and we start to rummage around them curiously with our forks. We scoop up plump, silky disks and on first taste, they could be mistaken as juicy scallops. The tones of earthiness however soon come into play – mushrooms. We inquisitively touch into the bowl – all gone. Beside us, our Canadians are discussing the tastes and textures of their meaty main course dishes.
Our mains arrive and we tear off succulent chunks of what is guessed to be tofu – the spongy warm texture a welcome change from the chilled starter. Accompanying the tofu is a selection of vegetables including stalks of asparagus and parcels of leeks – the result being both a satisfyingly tasty and healthy meal.
Dessert arrives and before we even manage to dip our spoons into the soft gooey pudding, the mouth-watering aroma of melted chocolate wafts upwards. Paired with a deliciously zesty passionfruit sorbet, we are temporarily distracted from both our ongoing conversation and the idea that we are wolfing down our dessert in complete darkness. In fact, the whole notion is seeming a lot less bizarre at this point.
There is an eruption of singing from the other side of the room – it is someone’s birthday. Without thinking, we burst in song, along with the rest of the room who seemingly all join in. We are all singing harmoniously, a pitch black room of strangers, unable to see one another and the moment is a strangely special one.
Leaving the restaurant
When we are led back into the light we are greeted by our new companions with a big hug and are led upstairs to the ‘silent bar’ where the dishes we have just consumed are revealed. Our estimates are pretty much spot on, the meal consisting of a king oyster mushroom starter, curried tofu steak and our favourite, the chocolate fondant dessert. Then, we are taught how to order a ‘surprise cocktail’ in sign language, which is not picked up with too much ease!
With our walls already down from our meal in the dark together, we nurse our drinks together with the Canadians, exchanging personal anecdotes of health, love and death; intimate conversations you would never expect to share with strangers. On leaving, we are surprised and humbled – experiencing such a deeply sensory dinner resulted in a unique evening that couldn’t fail to intrigue even the most cynical among us.
Disclaimer: This is a more personal account of my review written for London Calling. Read my original version here.