Have you ever wondered what it’s like to dine completely in the dark? Dans Le Noir?, meaning ‘In The Dark’, is a restaurant where guests get the chance to eat their meal in pitch black darkness.
French owner, Edouard de Broglie, developed the concept as a way to get the public to re-evaluate how they think about food: from ingredients to texture to flavour. He believes that our sense of taste is heightened when we can’t see our food.
The concept was developed in France 14 years ago and has had hundreds of thousands of visitors across London, Barcelona, Madrid, Auckland, Nantes, St Petersburg, Bangkok and Warsaw. The Melbourne branch opened on January 19 this year.
If the concept of not being able to see a single shred of light for two hours seems frightening-don’t worry. The restaurant is an experience on three levels; sensory, social and human.
When guests are in the dark room, they have no idea what they’re going to eat. Guests have the opportunity at the end of the night to guess what they’ve eaten from the surprise menu.
Many people who attempt to guess what they ate are completely off the mark. As soon as a suggestion of what the food could be is said, people are quick to agree. A factor that leads guests astray is that certain flavours are automatically paired together in our minds.
Civil Engineer, Scott MacJanett was brought to the restaurant as a surprise after his partner heard about the restaurant from work friends.
“It’s a bit of a pun but I think it’s an eye-opener. How it actually is when you can’t see, how difficult things can actually be. But also the other side of the spectrum that your other senses pick up so much, is quite amazing”.
Guests discover themselves eating with their hands as they use their sense of touch to ‘see’ the food, something most would never dare to do in the outside world. Fear not, the dishes aren’t messy. The food has been cut into bite-sized pieces and the sauce placed at the bottom of the plate.
Head Chef, Dinesh Munirathinam, has 15 years of culinary experience and changes the menu every three months to allow for returning guests. The chef designs the menu specifically for the concept and uses fresh produce, while catering for major allergies.
Guests who attend the restaurant are seated at a table with complete strangers.
Manager of the restaurant, Aurore Lepy, said the restaurant purposely has large tables so that guests can meet people they never knew before.
“It’s a new way to socialise, it’s important for us. You don’t have your cell phone with you, you’re really focused on the conversation inside. In the darkroom it’s really different, it’s more spontaneous, more authentic and you meet with new people. This is why we like it.”
With the design the way it is, guests are invited to join in other people’s conversations. You’re all on the same table, so you can’t help but listen.
By the end of the night everyone is friends, saying “see you” and “nice to meet you”. Whether you’re a student or a politician, you’re all equal in the dark. People find out that they have so much in common. Each table had a birthday, the entire restaurant all united in the singing.
Preconceptions of other guests are thrown out the window, the dark room creates an approachable and friendly environment to engage with others. Many memorable moments were created as guests came up with games to entertain themselves such as handing objects around the table to guess what it was or writing letters on one another’s hands to spell words. Pulling pranks was another highlight, “my plate is floating!” was yelled as someone held up their plate, “I thought I had more cheese…” was another as someone stole some from their plate. Use of hand gestures are made redundant in the dark room, yet guests find that they still use them.
The wait staff are all legally blind. The roles are reversed for the night as the vision impaired staff become your eyes.
“Obviously the blind waiters were the best to do the job which is why the founder created this concept”.
“We work with Vision Australia and other service providers to recruit the guides that work at Dans Le Noir?. Some of the team come from Vision Australia and some come from SensWide, also some of them just apply for the job”. They were really supportive of the concept coming to Melbourne and they helped us recruit the guides”.
Through this role-reversal, the staff have the opportunity to demonstrate what it’s like for them.
“The team are really enjoying their jobs, for example, some of them hadn’t worked for a long time, were unemployed or some of them had other jobs, but the guides sometimes tell me that it’s amazing to get paid for a job that you like so much, for having so much fun. They have all different backgrounds and stories.”
The three course meal is $95, as an experience, it’s worth the price.
Dans Le Noir? is open from Thursday-Sunday and can seat 80 people. They organise events including readings, debates and tastings. Gift vouchers are available on their website.
Visit TripAdvisor for guests reviews.