Fo0die dined as a guest of Dans le Noir? and as such, the rating does not give any consideration to customer service.
Dans le Noir literally means ‘in the dark’ so this review will be written a little differently to the normal blog entries given I have no photos of food or photos of the interior dining area to show you (feel free to jump to the sections you want to read). And if you have not guessed, Dans le Noir offers a sensory, social and human experience by dining in complete darkness (and I mean complete pitch black darkness, cannot see your hands in front of your face type darkness).
Located at Como Melbourne MGallery by Sofitel, a short walk from South Yarra train station, Dans le Noir has arrived on Australian shores. Originally from France, the success of the first restaurant 13 years ago has seen Dans le Noir open up in Barcelona, Madrid and Auckland (to name a few).
Upon arrival, we had to leave all items in the cloak room, including watches if they had glow in the dark features or would light up (i.e. smart watches). We were advised to wash our hands prior to the experience (and I recommend a restroom stop prior to going in to maximise your experience). We had a choice of three different menus as a three or five course offering (with matching wines or surprise cocktails/mocktails as an option). We had the ‘feed me chef’ three course with a surprise cocktail for her and surprise mocktail for him served during entree.
The waiting area is comfortable with enough seating to accommodate everyone. A wall with photos of the guides working there provides a nice personal touch. Then there’s the black curtains, blowing outwards, awaiting our entry. Honestly I felt scared and nervous as I waited.
I am quite self aware and empathetic for most part so while this is my experience of dining in the dark, yours may be different. I mean, Mr J’s take away was he enjoyed seeing his food, point made.
The Entry Experience
As we formed our congo line and slowly guided in by our guide Amir who is visually impaired, my tummy sank as the curtains closed behind me. I started feeling anxious as it got darker and darker (I was freaking out if I had to be honest). What kept me going was the fact that the lady in front of me voiced out exactly what I felt, which made me feel normal; we therefore sought comfort in each other after that, both closing our eyes so that our brains weren’t freaking out by the fact that we could not see a thing.
Mr J on the other hand was relatively comfortable with the whole pitch black darkness thanks to him often wandering around home in the dark and without his glasses, he’s as blind as a bat. Rest assured that you do adjust to dining in complete darkness and within 10 minutes, the anxiousness had disappeared but the eyes still kept searching trying to see something.
We were a group of 12 and was guided to our seats by Amir, 6 on one side and their dining partner on the other side (therefore I was ‘facing’ Mr J at the dining table; not that it mattered because I couldn’t see him anyway!)
The Sensory Experience
I always say I feast with my eyes and this experience proved this. With no other choice, we had to focus on what we were tasting and smelling to work out what we were eating. I even used my fingers to feel the ingredients on the plate/find the food on my plate.
We played a ‘guess what you were eating’ game when we were guided out and there was no doubt that the dishes were all created to cleverly trick your taste buds and for some items, had we had our eye sight, we would have quickly been able to rule out some of the incorrect guesses. While the menu does change every three months, we do not want to spoil the fun so we will not reveal what the dishes were.
The Social Experience
Dans le Noir? is a group dining, so don’t go in thinking you will only speak to the person you’ve gone with, you will be speaking to others seated at the long table with you. The social experience aspect was an interesting one for us. We are both introverts by nature, Mr J moreso than myself. While Mr J preferred to just dine with me and not in a group of 12, I found comfort that I was not alone in a quiet dining room.
Dining in complete darkness where everyone dined as equals for the two or so hours. Equally vulnerable, equally (some of us) anxious, not defined by race, age or gender, we were just one big group supporting each other. An experience not often enough felt in society.
The Human Experience
For two hours or so, we were put in the shoes of a visually impaired person. And while I know this brief experience does not even come close to the everyday struggles a visually impaired person would experience, we gained insight to the dining aspect with simple tasks like pouring water into your own cup (learning some tips off Amir for this one), not realising how tall my glass was and placing it straight onto my chin when I first went for a drink, not knowing where my food was on my plate and not having the ability to mix different components on the plate in one mouthful.
This experience only made me so thankful and grateful that not having my eyesight was only temporary and that I had a choice to step out of the room and be able to see again.
The Exit and Conclusion
After two hours of darkness, we were guided back to the waiting area where we were instructed to look down or close our eyes on exit as our eyes needed to adjust back. When the lights came on, the group of 12 became, funnily enough, like strangers again.
While I personally won’t be in a rush re-live this pitch black experience, it is something that I will remember for a long time.