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Dans le Noir Restaurant

Dining in Total Darkness

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Dinner in complete darkness. The concept was intimidating, but intriguing. Not a fan of the dark to begin with, I never was tempted to try, but when Courtney Traub invited me to Dans le Noir? restaurant as her guest, I decided to face my fears and see what all the talk was about.

Founded by Edouard de Broglie and Etienne Boisrond in 2004 in Paris, Dans le Noir? was co-funded by the Paul Guinot Foundation for Blind People. The restaurant has reportedly attracted over 100,000 curious visitors since it opened. The concept is simple but striking: guests are served a three-course gourmet meal with guidance from visually impaired servers, who encourage diners to get compfortable with the darkness, serving themselves their own wine, for example. The concept has taken off and now has other locations around the world, including in London.

The lowdown

Pros:

  • Truly original experience
  • Fun and relaxed atmosphere
  • Friendly and helpful wait staff

Cons:

  • Food a little disappointing for the price
  • The meal is slightly rushed
  • Long wait time

Practical Info:

  • Address: 51, Rue Quincampoix, 4th arrondissement 75004
  • Tel.: +33 1 42 77 98 04
  • Metro: Etienne Marcel (line 4); Rambuteau (line 11)
  • Reservations: Required; by telephone or internet
  • Menus: Evening & lunchtime (43/37 euros); children (16 euros); surprise menu (67 euros)
  • Languages spoken: English-speaking wait staff on request
  • Payment Options: All major credit cards accepted
  • Visit the official website

Arrival and Getting Settled

Although asked to arrive fifteen minutes in advance for a briefing, the restaurant is closed when we get there and we join the ample gathering of expectant diners outdoors. When ushered in, we discover the delay is down to the preparations of a Canadian film crew, who are planning to use infra-red cameras to capture the experience.

The diners gather around the bar area and there is a mixture of anticipation and trepidation in the air. A Canadian TV crew member’s comment that the pitch-black dining room is "truly freaky" does nothing to ease my nerves, but we order a cocktail at the bar and before we know it, our visually impaired server, Sarah, leads us into the darkness.

Initially, the darkness is the least of our worries. We are too busy trying to locate our chairs, avoid knocking over our dinnerware or falling into our neighbor's lap. Once we are comfortably seated, the obscurity is strangely soothing, and although there is no music, this feels like the loudest restaurant I have ever been in. I find myself trying to envision the layout and clientele, because there are absolutely no hints here-- the human eye does not adjust to this kind of intense darkness, which gives diners a true glimpse into the experience of the visually impaired. Wait staff encourage independence and do not (metaphorically or otherwise) hold your hand through the experience. They do, however, share handy tips such as putting your finger inside your wineglass when pouring to avoid spillage. Attracting waitstaff's attention is humbling, and rather primitive-- you simply shout your server's name if you need assistance. Luckily for us, Sarah always seemed to be nearby and ready to help.

Once we relax a bit, it becomes more fun, and trepidation is replaced with giddy laughter. We serve each other wine and water comfortably and when our meal arrives (a surprise menu), we each try to guess the content.

The Meal

Dans le Noir's chef was previously on the staff of reputed Michelin-rated restaurants such as Plaza Athenée, so I was sure the food would be the highlight. But while the guesswork was fun, the flavor combinations seemed overpowering-- although it was difficult to tell if this was as a result of a heightened sense of taste. Somehow, being stripped of sight seemed to dampen the enjoyment of eating, and while we could glean that the dishes were impeccably presented, we ended up focusing more on locating the food on our plate and getting it into our mouths, rather than on savoring it. This was one of the more surprising aspects of the experience.

Having mastered the eating process, my badly chosen attire (cream trousers) no longer worries me and Courtney and I enter into meaningful discussion, free of the usual human preoccupations of volume, congruousness and judgment.

It seems the other guests are equally complacent; there is a lot of laughter and loud conversation. As a result, we are hushed several times by wait staff, who have difficulty hearing through their ear pieces, used to communicate with kitchen staff, over the noise. This feeling of restriction was really the only negative experience of the evening.

Once we finish our meal, we are not given much time to linger, and surprisingly, both Courtney and I feel slight disappointment at being ushered back to daylight.

The Bottom Line

The Dans le Noir experience is stimulating, enjoyable and far from intimidating. It's a novel idea which seems to have so far stood the test of time. My one piece of advice, however, would be to go with somebody you are at ease with, as the experience is highly intimate. Contrary to what you might imagine, first dates here might prove awkward.

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