"DANCE LE NOIR" Restaurant Review
Photo courtesy of Daniele Amoroso
Following the success of the original restaurant in Paris, “Dans le Noir” opened in London in 2006. Dans le Noir is not just a restaurant where you might go for a nice meal, it is an experience where the food is not necessarily the most important element of the evening.
The place is dark. So dark that not even shapes can be seen. I had always presumed myself to be the beholder of an owl's vision, but only until now. The evening had better tricks for me.
All the waiters at Dans le Noir are blind. Ensconced in an intimidating dark hall, here nature conspires to render you at absolute par with these waiters. At least for an evening. Despite their disability, or rather precisely because of it, they're the only people you can rely upon to safely arrive at your table.
The business is based on two fundamental principles: the experience of concentrating on senses other than sight, thus enjoying the taste and the smell of the food without much ado for the aesthetic presentation (of course, you can’t see it!) and secondly, the empowerment of these blind people. Certainly, the latter is the most interesting. It is surprising how lost and scared we feel when we lose the use of our eyes, even if it be temporary. We turn excessively vulnerable.
When we notice a blind person trying to cross a traffic light, we sometimes rush to help and in exchange feel good about ourselves. Now it’s exactly them who are helping us enter the dining room, locate the chair, the knife, the fork and the glasses (tall one for water and small one for wine). They explain how to pour water into your glass without spilling it and they take you to the toilets, where there is actually light.
To my left and right, there are strangers seated. A brief thought and the fear of getting robbed in this darkness amidst strangers enjoying a 'status incognito' flits across my mind. Actually it was not such an absurd thought; in fact, you are strongly advised to put all your valuables in a locker at the entrance, where there is still light.
For a couple of interminable minutes after entering the dining room I feel a heavy pressure on top of my head, like a million hands squeezing my brain and the only thing that refrains me from running outside (towards where? Where is the exit?) is my partner’s reassuring voice which is unusually loud. I have been told by the guides that when you can’t see the person you're talking to, you tend to speak louder to be sure that you're being heard. Now imagine a big room with 60 people speaking at that same bellowing pitch, hunting for attention; total chaos.
When the meal arrives (finally), my struggle continues with trying to figure out how to grab the food with the fork, but fortunately, the lady on my right suggests circling my hand around the plate to form a sort of a barrier, lest you risk pushing off all your food out of the plate. That was great advice, but after a while, I gave up and started eating with my hands. By now I had started to lose all my sense of dining civility and instead recognize the germination of some kind of macabre wildness.
I forgot to mention one fundamental thing: you don’t know what you are eating. You can choose between four different menus: the chef’s surprise, vegetarian, fish or meat lovers; that’s all you get to know. The rest is up to you to guess.
I recognized cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese in the starter and some strange vegetables in the main all cooked in a very traditional French style rich with mousses and sauces. My partner chose the fish menu and, even though he said that it was not too bad, he stopped at Tesco to get a sandwich when he left. But he liked it. I mean, he liked the experience. He enjoyed eating with the hands and not having anyone complain about his inappropriate behavior or his not-fancy-enough outfit.
As a photojournalist, it is hard for me to think of a world without images, but in a society where appearance is all-important, it is nice to be “invisible” for a while. That is probably the reason why this restaurant is so appreciated by the celebrities; they can disappear into the darkness for one evening without being spotted by the paparazzi.
Not being part of the star system, £125 for a two-course meal and a bottle of wine seemed a bit excessive to me. To stop the remorse from grabbing my stomach I keep telling myself that a certain amount of that £125 is going to charities supporting people with disabilities. I begin to feel better.
© GIULIA CANDUSSI. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.