Dans Le Noir?
“I knew they said it was going to be dark, but I didn’t realise it was going to be this dark,” Tom whispered as we were led through a set of curtains and to our seats. It sounds rather stupid – I mean the whole concept of the restaurant was that we would be eating in the dark – but I had to agree, I hadn’t realised just how dark it would be. Dans le Noir? was ‘literally’ pitch black.
Created by Edouard de Broglie and Etienne Boisrond, the first Dans le Noir? was opened in Paris in 2004. Designed to promote awareness of the blind and disabilities within France, the project was an instantaneous success. Eight years later, there are now restaurants where you dine in complete darkness in Switzerland, Germany, Finland, America and England.
After a bit of a detour – courtesy of Tom following the wrong dot on his I-phone sat-nav – we had made it to Farringdon, London, just in time for our 7 pm reservation. Asked to remove our coats, we put them and our other belongings into a locker in the reception (no phones or electronic devices are allowed into the restaurant). We were then shown a choice of four set menus: vegetarian, fish, meat or the chef’s surprise. No surprises, we went for the surprise.
“You know I have a bit of a phobia of the dark,” Tom continued as Asher, our personal waiter for the night, placed our hands on the back of our chairs and left to get our starters.
“Are you kidding me?” I replied, groping my way around the chair.
“No, at school we did this pitch black Fire and Rescue practice and I had to be dragged out of the building because I thought I was having an asthma attack.”
“That’s not a phobia of the dark you idiot, you probably did have an asthma attack with all that smoke.”
“That’s the thing, there was no smoke.”
I laughed and accidentally swung my hand into my drink; it toppled over but didn’t smash. I’d really thought that my hand was no-where near the table and I determined to be more careful as I picked the empty glass back up.
Asher announced his return and told us to pick up our knife and fork. I managed this quite quickly and was rather impressed with myself (my spacial-awareness was back on track). He placed the starters in front of us and a glass of wine to the right – these were in regular tumblers; a wine glass, we later decided, would have probably been a bit ambitious.
The plate was cold; I grasped it with my right hand and prodded my fork around until I felt a lump of something solid attached to it. I brought it to my mouth.
‘Yuck!’ It was cold, slimy, bitty and tasted of salty water. I took another mouthful, ‘yuck,’ it was raw salmon and fish eggs. A saumon tartare, fish egg mix. I was sure of it, just as I was sure that I loathed it. I prodded around a bit more and felt something harder on the plate. ‘Mmmmn,’ this was warm and crispy, a cheddar and spinach mini-quiche perhaps. I found another. The pastry was light – filo, I decided.
“What do you think?”
“It’s a Tartare,” Tom replied assuredly.
I felt around the plate, there weren’t any mini-quiches left, but there was a lot of cold, minced up fish left. I put my knife and fork down and found the wine glass. It was white and distinctly average but I’d finished the tumbler by the time Asher brought the main course and the next tumbler of wine – this time red.
The plate was hot, verging on scalding – so touching it wasn’t really a good decision. I found my knife and fork and began the prodding process. It was lamb and it was fine; it wasn’t overly fatty and had a tasty seasoning. I went back for more. The fork was heavy – I’d got a big mouthful (I didn’t need to look lady-like after all) and squished it inelegantly in. I’d obviously prodded a different part of the plate – this wasn’t lamb, it was fish. It was Monkfish.
Fish and lamb, my instinct was not to like it, fish and lamb don’t go together. Hang on though, I did like it. It worked weirdly well; the saltiness of the lamb was balanced by the freshness and the simplicity of the fish and the combination was rather enjoyable. A few more mouthfuls, from the left and the right of the plate: fish, lamb, fish, lamb. And then a bite of cabbage.
‘That cabbage is insane! The monkfish and lamb together is a bit weird, but I quite like it.’
‘Monkfish? I think it’s swordfish,’ Tom replied. He was right, it was definitely swordfish. ‘All of this stuff is probably made to taste like other stuff though- I reckon that this lamb is actually chicken coated in lamb stock.’
‘Chicken? No way. It’s lamb, it’s 100% lamb.’
‘Well I’m throwing it out there, chicken and average chicken at that. I wonder how many other people are in here.’
I hadn’t really thought about it. I’d heard people talking and laughing but I couldn’t distinguish where all the sounds were all coming from. I just knew that they weren’t close. We were in our own little bubble of darkness.
Asher arrived with a surprise cocktail (a watery pinacolada) and another cold plate – pudding. The spoon, we were told was on the plate, but it was only after two insertions into a thick, mousse like substance that my fingers found it. I licked them – chocolate. I dug in and took a large mouthful: it was good; creamy, rich and not too sweet. I took another bite and was happily surprised by a wry raspberry. My spoon attacked the plate until it couldn’t find anything else. Not quite content, I used my fingers just to have a quick check that I hadn’t missed anything and found two squidgy squares of raspberry jelly – they tasted like they were from a packet.
The meal was over and we formed a hand/shoulder line with Asher and were led out to the light. We returned to reception and were handed a menu with pictures and descriptions of what we’d actually just eaten. We’d been right and we’d been wrong, in some cases very wrong. The fish egg mix was actually scallop tartare, the spinach and cheddar quiches – black pudding, the swordfish – blue shark steak, and lamb – Wagyu beef!
I’d had a fantastic time, eating in the pitch black was extraordinary, but when the bill came the night was put into perspective. There is absolutely no way the meal had been worth £134. The food had not been brilliant and for that price, food needs to be brilliant. The experience though had been unforgettable. It’s a tricky one, but I do suggest going to Dans le Noir? be prepared though – that it’s the experience, not the food, that you’re paying for.
Food – 3/5
Experience – 5/5
Dans Le Noir?
30-31 Clerkenwell Green,
London. EC1R 0DU
020 7253 1100