Blind Waiters in a World of Sensual Elevation
My wife and I recently went to Dans Le Noir – London’s first restaurant in the dark, started after the success of it’s parent restaurant in Paris. Seeing as the restaurant only seats 60 people, you need to book pretty well in advance to get a place (there are three sitting for dinner a night), but once you do – it’s an experience you’re not likely to forget. Upon arriving you are in a lit cocktail lounge where you can enjoy a drink and look at the menu and order your meal. My wife and I both chose the ‘surprise menu’ where you are not told what you will be eating. Deciding to at least have some choice in the matter, we ordered the 2003 Chablis ‘St. Martin’ white Burgundy, and our blind waiter led us to our table.
Benoit, our waiter led us into the room (we held his shoulder whilst he led the way) – to be led into a room and suddenly be deprived of site and have to rely completely on a the guidance of a person who is not perturbed by darkness in the slightest is a feeling of trust I hadn’t quite appreciated. Something quite amazing happens though – the amount of banter and noise that was in the cocktail room suddenly subsides; you find yourself moving very cautiously and slowly; everyone lowers their voices to a whisper. By formally removing the light the world at once becomes finite and infinite and we’re suddenly in a realm we city dwellers are usually forced to turn off – our sensory world. You are sitting across from someone else, and it would be just the same if you were pulling a face, closing your eyes or looking right at them (incidentally they have infra-red night vision cameras in the restaurant to make sure no one steals purses or gets naked.) What you find is that you listen more carefully – but also that you can recognize the tone in people’s voices.
Our wine came, which was a great moment – because for a while my wife and I could sit in silence and enjoy the experience of ‘sensing’ the Chablis (from the bowl of an unbreakable wine glass.) For the first time – and perhaps it was because of the darkness, but I picked up a kind of soil component a Chablis – just a light funky whiff of mushroom, which was completely unusual but new. Over and above that there was a mineral purity on the palate; and on a second visit the nose had a definite apricot overlay similar to the Chablis Greg and I had at Postrio.
Once the food arrived it was a little ridiculous and turned into a bit of a detective game. I even reached into the plate to touch the food just to try get extra senses onto the case. ‘Is this a carrot; is it chicken, or shrimp, no I think its scallops. Oh yes, scallops – of course…’ It was incredible how much more important the texture of the food became – and how much more appreciative we were of it. I began to realize that I don’t have many descriptive words for gastronomic texture and all I could say was ‘wow, this is really good. really good.’
Needless to say that it was very welcome to have ice cream and chocolate fondant for dessert – as I felt far more sure of myself.
After 90 minutes of being in complete visual sensory deprivation and having all our other senses working on over time, it was quite welcome to be led into the lit room where Benoit announced to us that we were back in the light – what was quite humbling however was to realize that for him, the world had stayed in darkness whilst ours came back to life.Tags: Food, pairing, restaurant