Dining in the dark ~ Dans Le Noir
Dans Le Noir? is a restaurant in London that is pitch black – and I mean pitch black! You can’t see your hand in front of your face. And you can’t peep when the waiters go in and out as they pass through several black velvet curtains, so no light shines through.
Andy K and I sat in the outside bar and talked to Dominique, the London General Manager.
Despite the fame of Dans Le Noir? in Paris, London, Barcelona and St Petersburg, he’s quite shy and avoids publicity. But I managed to sneak a couple of photos when he wasn’t looking!
Dominique, who comes from the French Alps on the Swiss border, has been with Dans Le Noir? since it opened here eight years ago.
It started in Paris 10 years ago, followed by London, Barcelona six years ago, and Russia three years ago.
The lighting is very subdued everywhere, to allow people’s eyes to adjust when they come out from their eating experience.
All the waiters are blind! They can ‘see’ perfectly in the black restaurant, while we’re like a bunch of helpless babies. They guide us!
There’s a doggy nursery for the guide dogs, where they relax and wait for their owners. The window’s slightly open and there’s plenty of fresh water to drink.
Dans Le Noir? is very popular with Companies, for Team Building and Corporate events.
Food and drink companies also book it to get supermarket chains, etc to try their new products without seeing the packaging and what the product looks like. So they can genuinely tell if they like it or not without being swayed by the appearance!
Upstairs is another bar that seats around 50 people. It’s used by large groups after their experience in the dark, so they have private space to mingle and discuss it.
Every two months the menu changes.
The restaurant has three main Concepts;
- Personal experience.
80% of information passes through the brain and taste and smell are very important.
Amazingly, everyone loved it when spinach was on the menu, even though they’d hated spinach all their lives, when they could see it!
- A social experience.
There are no single tables, just large long tables. You have no idea who is sitting to the right or left of you.
Everybody’s the same in the dark. You could be sitting next to someone famous.
Prince William and Kate have been there twice! They arrived after everyone had been led inside.
I’d laddered my tights, but it didn’t matter because nobody could see it!
- Most important, you’re going to be guided by a blind person.
They’re the Ambassadors of the Darkness!
The dark room seats up to 60 people, and there are two sittings per night.
There are four waiters per service, with 15 diners each to look after.
Remember, they can’t see the orders!
It was time to go in.
First, we had to place all our bags, phones, etc in a locker so that we couldn’t shine any light inside. So I have no photos of the food.
We lined up behind our waiter Roberto, with our hand on the right shoulder of the person in front, and he led us into the darkness.
One of the bar staff read out our names and orders to Roberto, including the drinks, and he nodded and started walking.
He didn’t ask her to repeat anything, and he didn’t forget anything!
They all have photographic memories, over and over again, night after night. Brilliant! I must work on my concentration. I reluctantly confess that I even forgot his name once!
Andy K was seated opposite me, and there were two girls beside us.
I know because we introduced ourselves.
Then one of the girls had a mild panic attack and decided that she couldn’t stand the darkness. So they called Roberto and he led them out.
Roberto told us that we had a knife and fork to the left, and two glasses in front of us.
He brought the drinks, followed by the starters. He put them straight down on the table as though he could see.
I gave up on the knife and fork, and just dived in with my fingers. And I didn’t tip my sparkling water in the glass. I swigged it out of the bottle!
Then I had to visit the loos, so I called Roberto and he gave me his hand, which I held tight, and he led me through the curtains to the dimly-lit corridor, which was a relief for me, but just the same for him!
After my visit to the loo, I stood outside the curtains and yelled for Roberto who led me back to my seat. And Andy K thought it was very funny to stay silent so that I’d think he wasn’t there! But my senses were getting tuned in, so I could smell him and hear him silently chuckling after a while.
Sitting on the train on the way home, I noticed that I’d got chocolate pud under my nails, from where I’d fumbled on the table to find the dish!
What did I think of the experience? That’s what it was; an experience!
Our roles were completely reversed. Roberto could ‘see’ perfectly, and we were totally dependent on him.
It’s not cheap. The restaurant’s in an expensive area of London and it costs them a fortune in rent, Council Tax, etc before the first customer steps through the door.
Quite honestly, it’s not a place that you’d pop into for a quick meal. It’s entertainment, lasting for nearly two hours.
There were a couple of renderings of Happy Birthday to You which we all joined in, although we had no idea who it was for, or even where they were in the room!
But when you leave, you’ll think about the experience a lot, and about yourself and what you’re capable or not capable of achieving if you’re forced to!
Apart from titillating my tastebuds, I learnt a lot of Respect, for what other people can do when they have no choice.
Quite honestly, I felt a bit ashamed of myself and the natural talents that I waste!
The film ‘About Time,’ written and directed by Richard Curtis was partly filmed in Dans Le Noir?
Dans Le Noir?
30-31 Clerkenwell Green
020 7253 1100