A few weeks ago, for my husband’s 50th, we took 17 family members to Dans Le Noir (http://london.danslenoir.com/en/home/). For those of you that don’t know, Dans Le Noir is the ‘dining in the dark’ restaurant where, as the name suggests, you eat in the dark (total dark!). So John decided he would like to do something a bit different for his birthday and rather than taking everyone bungee jumping, he opted for this experience. John and I had been there last year and really enjoyed it but we were unsure how it would be for everyone else. Our ages ranged from 13 – 81, all sighted people and most with little (or no) experience of vision impairment.
So apart from the logistics of getting everyone there (which was comparatively easy apart from taxi’s not turning up to take us to the train station) we all arrived okay. As a surprise for John, I had booked a private room which also had its own lounge. Juan was our host for the day and welcomed us warmly. We then went through taking off all jewellery, watches, glasses etc and putting phones and bags in a safe place. My brother was a little unnerved removing his glasses as he then couldn’t see very clearly at all, but he was reassured that he would be guided into the restaurant and from then on glasses would be of no assistance whatsoever! The jewellery, watch and phone removal is to ensure nothing with any light reflection goes into the restaurant, but also ensures you don’t have anything with you that you are going to put down and then be unable to relocate or knock to the floor! Everything else is left outside so there are no trip hazards in the restaurant.
We were then introduced to Jack – our waiter for lunch. Jack is registered blind, as are all the waiters at Dans Le Noir. Jack then lead us table by table into the restaurant. As we had 2 tables, 1 of 9 and one of 8, the first 9 people made a single file line and then each put their right hand onto the shoulder of the person in front with Jack the waiter as the lead. In this way everyone made their way into the restaurant. It was at this point that everyone realised exactly how dark the restaurant was! Although we’d been there before, both John and I said we both experienced the same feeling of trepidation as your sight is completely taken from you. Jack seated each person in turn by guiding their hand onto the back of their chair and allowing them to feel their chair before seating themselves. Jack then repeated this with the other table of people.
And then began the dining experience! Prior to the day, everyone had chosen whether they wanted to follow the white (surprise), red (meat), blue (fish) or green (vegetarian) menu. Other than these choices none of us had any idea what we were going to eat – all part of the tasting experience!
Firstly, Jack bought us our water bottles – apparently part of the experience is to pour the water into your own glass! As we also had surprise cocktails to drink, I think a lot of people focussed on these and avoided the water pouring experience, but several attempted it using a variety of techniques with varying degrees of success although no major spillages. Most involved putting a finger into the glass to gauge the water level (ok with your own drink and cold drinks but not so great for pouring for anyone else or for hot drinks which is why, I guess, tea and coffee is only served after dinner in the lit lounge area!)
When serving the cocktails, Jack kindly warned us that the cocktails had straws in them, very useful information to save accidental injury! A lot of debate was had about the content of the cocktail – passionfruit and strawberry were the keen favourites.
We were then each served with our starters – luckily for Jack, I thought his ‘where’s my little vegetable’ comment quite amusing as I was the sole vegetarian of the group!! In fact, Jack's sense of humour and general attitude really helped everyone to relax and enjoy the fun element of the meal rather than worrying about the darkness. As my starter contained sliced fennel, I spent quite a bit of time with the curve not quite fitting in my mouth and tapping me instead on the side of my face. As quite a distinguished flavour it was easy to identify, but other items were less so. Whilst most people could get an idea of what they were eating (i.e. fish, meat, potato etc) being able to taste exactly what it was proved more difficult (I don’t think anyone got kangaroo!). During the main course, one of the party found himself without dinner, which, although confused, Jack quickly rectified by bringing another meal. However, it later transpired that my son was convinced his plate had 4 sections whereas everyone else’s had only 3. We reckon he’d somehow ended up with 2 plates (I don’t think on purpose). People did manage to eat most of their meals with their knives and forks (or so they tell me) but as none of us could see each other or the mess we were making, it didn’t really matter and no-one needed to be too self conscious. The restaurant do provide extra size napkins too!
We were then led out of the room by Jack and back into the lounge area where John was greeted with his birthday cake (thank you again to Dans Le Noir for being so accommodating) and where tea and coffee was safely served.
We also looked through the menus to find out what we had actually eaten, with quite a few ‘oh reallys’ to be heard. Then my Mum realised that the room we had eaten in was now empty so we went back in to have a look. As I said before, we were seated at 2 separate tables and on entering the now lit room, were all really surprised at the room layout – although we had been able to hear the other table and know vaguely their location in the restaurant, we hadn’t realised the exact positioning. We also hadn’t realised that there was a large pillar in the middle of the room that Jack had obviously been expertly avoiding throughout service. The best part was that my brother had been seated at the head of the table on one of the lounge chairs (due to us having one extra number to their normal capacity), rather than the standard dining chairs the rest of us were sat on. Several people commented on this but as my brother
pointed out, in the dark he’s completely missed that he was special, assuming we were all sat on the same!
On leaving the restaurant, we met Jack outside waiting for a lift or taxi. We thanked him again for his help (having explained who we were – although he said he recognised our voices anyway!).
General comments from the day:
‘Wow, what an experience’
‘I realise how much I eat with my eyes’
‘I’m getting my friends to do that when I invite them for dinner’
‘Makes you think – in the restaurant, Jack was the one completely in control and we were the ones who were dependent on him’
I would certainly recommend this for both the food and the experience. Thank you to Dans le Noir (https://www.facebook.com/DansLeNoirLondon/) and also our families for making it such good fun!
We’re always interested to know about other people’s experiences and thoughts. Has anyone else been to Dans Le Noir? Or interested in going? Please share by commenting…
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Our VIDA Insights...
Following our experiences from delivering our Vision Impairment Awareness training days over the past couple of years, we know that there’s loads more that we could talk about and examples we could have shared. Whilst these won’t be a substitute for our training, they will give you an insight (hence the name!) into our thoughts, observations and experiences from each of our perspectives - Dave’s living with sight loss and Vicky’s from being a sighted person and working alongside and supporting people who have sight loss.