As soon as we stepped into Dans Le Noir?, we were welcomed by friendly staff and a warm atmosphere. Within minutes, Dominique arrived and whisked us to the upstairs bar. Dominique is the General Manager of Dans Le Noir? London and has been there since the beginning. He worked at Dans Le Noir? in Paris when it first opened 10 years ago and has loyally followed the concept to London where he now spends his days ushering in celebrities and calming down claustrophobics.
Dominique explained to us that, while the phrase ‘dans le noir’ simply means ‘in the dark’ the question mark is added as a symbol of the experience, which raises questions such as ‘What am I eating?’, ‘What am I drinking?’, ‘Who am I sitting next to?’…
The world famous restaurant concept has three main ideas:
1. Personal Experience: we really do eat with our eyes and it can be argued that this hinders our taste sensation. Dans Le Noir? takes away the vision (when they say pitch black they mean pitch black), heightening the other four senses. Not only do you really taste the food, you find yourself hearing so much more than just your own conversation. It truly is an extraordinary experience!
2. Social Experience: There are not many places where it’s acceptable to strike up conversation with the people around you. The tables are bench style, a bit like Wagamamas (I think…I couldn’t see!) but you wouldn’t usually catch me introducing myself to strangers mid Katsu Curry. By putting you in the dark and on the same table, Dans Le Noir? creates an environment in which you are free to talk to anyone within earshot without coming across like a weirdo stalker with no friends! As Dominique says ‘we are all the same in the dark’ – rich, poor, black, white, famous, infamous…it doesn’t matter, in the dark, we are just people. People who are united in their sudden struggle to do something we’ve all been doing our whole lives – have a bite to eat without losing the food somewhere between your plate and your mouth.
3. The most important idea behind Dans Le Noir? (and what I believe TRULY sets it apart from any other dining experience) is the role reversal that takes place. Day to day, it’s the ‘normal’ people who can be seen helping the blind, the disabled. You may see a blind person walking along the street and feel the need to get out of their way in order to help them, or help them cross the street (even though they most likely don’t actually need your help). In the dark, we completely rely on the blind guides (not waiters) to help us navigate. 50% of the staff at this amazing place are disabled. While you wouldn’t quite call Dans Le Noir? a social enterprise, it is certainly doing its bit to change the perception of disabilities, in particular blindness, and offers a great place to work. It is also proof that a company can help people and be commercially successful at the same time, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Okay, that’s enough background. Now…lets go into the dark.
To get some Dutch courage before plunging ourselves into complete unrelenting darkness, my friend Sarah and I opted for a cocktail each. I had the Dans Le Noir? which I highly recommend. Throughout the meal we had two glasses of surprise wine each (one white and one dessert) and we finished the evening off with a surprise cocktail each. The drinks are well priced (£9 for a cocktail) and creative (I’m pretty sure I could taste cinnamon in one of them and some kind of herb in another!)
Meet your Guide
Once we realised there was no going back, we put our brave faces on and Dominique handed us over to our guide Darren. His commanding, theatrical voice and reassuring words gave us a much needed confidence boost and, in single file with one hand on the person in front’s shoulder, we went through a curtain and into the dark…and then through another curtain and into the real dark. My first thought was ‘I wish I wasn’t wearing heels – I’m definitely going to fall and break my ankle/neck’. Luckily, the experience does not include an obstacle course. The journey to the table was simple (while at the same time petrifying) and Darren had us seated in no time. He reassured us that if we needed anything all we had to do was call ‘Darren!’ and he’d be there – we tested this theory…it’s like he’s everywhere all at once!
There are four menu options, the details of each a surprise:
1. Green = Vegetarian
2. Blue = Seafood
3. Red = Meat
4. White = Surprise
We opted for Red and White to share. Before the starters even arrived we ran into the first big challenge – how do we pour the water from the jug into the glasses?! Do we even have glasses? Oh yep, just knocked something over – found the glasses! Darren’s invaluable advice was to put one finger inside the glass so you can feel when it gets to the top. Perfect. First hurdle cleared.
The next challenge was how to eat half the meal (as we were sharing) when you can’t see the plate. We soon agreed to scrap trying and just completely guess. Next hurdle? Swapping plates. Thanks to a stroke of genius on my part – ‘I’ll go high and you go low!’ – this was actually pretty easy. Even harder than knowing when we had eaten half the meal was knowing when we had finished. There was a lot of plate scratching and putting empty forks in our mouths but we kind of got the hang of it! By the time the dessert came we were quite comfortable in the dark (relative to the first five minutes) and managed to eat with minimal fuss (let’s ignore the fact we got our hands involved). Come the end of the experience we had eaten some excellent food, drank some fine (surprise) wine, chatted with four other people we had never met (and we’ll never know what they look like), bantered with Darren and Trevor (both guides who we are sure spend their daytimes recording audio books) and taken on the dark.
‘But what about the food?!’ I hear you scream in exasperation. Once Darren guided us back to safety, Dominique was ready not just with the menu but with pictures of the dishes. We presented our guesses – some gingerly and some uber confidently – only to be completely shot down. Not only did we get every dish completely wrong (except for two questionably ‘close’ answers) but the images in the picture were nowhere close to the images in our heads. And to top it off we both devoured products which we usually vow to despise! Perhaps our palettes are less sophisticated than yours but I guarantee you will run into more than a few surprises. I can’t say what we had, as the menu is on a 2 month rotation and I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but I can say that every bite was delicious (those that made it to my mouth, at least).
The Fine Print
Dans Le Noir? is open every weekday from 6.30pm til late and weekends at 12.30pm-2.30pm but booking is essential! A 2 course meal costs £44 while a 3 course meal costs £52 and drinks are pretty standard London prices. While the menu may sound a little pricey, don’t forget you’re paying for this unique experience as well. The restaurant is available for private hire; wedding receptions, team building events and charity dinners are just a few of the events held here. ITV series ‘Dating in the Dark’ and Hollywood blockbuster ‘About Time’ both feature Dans Le Noir? – the options are endless!
I cannot put into words how much I would recommend this to anyone and everyone. Beyond the obvious it has so many great uses; helping children to empathise with the blind, encouraging people to face their fears (darkness or claustrophobia), new product tastings (some leading food and drinks companies do this here regularly) and more. Many celebrities have gone into the dark, from Kate and Wills to Katy Perry and Russell Brand (back in the day) which is often a mark of a must-visit place, but not usually a place that the average Londoner can afford! If you fancy yourself as a jet setter you could visit Dans Le Noir? in Paris, Barcelona or Saint Petersburg – and while in Paris you could pop into the Dans Le Noir? Spa in the dark…not kidding, it’s a real thing. Anyway, back to London – I will certainly be visiting again and telling everyone I know but the question is – do you dare?
For more information and bookings, please contact Dans Le Noir? below.
Have you been to Dans Le Noir? or are you making plans to go? Let me know in the comments!