I always like to make a fuss of my Jean on her birthday so today I treated her to dinner at Dans Le Noir in Clerkenwell Green. The clue to this posting lies in the restaurant's name; when you eat you are, quite literally, in the dark.
Because Dans Le Noir is a blind restaurant. As well as providing some great food, it is a place with a purpose. It gives customers a chance to confront head on one of our greatest fears, that of losing our sight.
Upon arrival, we were asked to choose a locker and pack away our belongings. We were then introduced to our waiter, Asha, who led us to the dining room. We were taken in a line, each of us told to place our hand on the shoulder of the person in front. The dining room is behind a double curtain, and once you are through, it feels like reality ends. Complete darkness. Can't-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face black. We were blind and being taken to our table by a blind man.
Asha, who had already told us that it was important that we trust him, took us to our seats, placed our hands on them and told us to sit down. We felt around and found a plate, the cutlery and glasses. I had taken a glass of wine in and put it down on the table while I was sitting down and once comfortable tried to find it. Impossible. It was nowhere. Not only was I deprived of my sight, I was deprived of my wine! Eventually, the person sitting next to me found it and the panic subsided.
The rest of the evening was remarkable. Three courses of food. No idea what is placed before you and without sight, often unidentifiable by taste alone. Using cutlery became a chore. I had no idea what was on the end of the fork and no idea even if there even was anything on end of the fork. After many unsuccessful stabs in the dark, I took to eating by loading my fork by hand. Well, it wasn't if anyone could see.
The dining room seats sixty and without sight the chatter seemed amplified. I struggled to hear my companion and had to cup my ears to hear. Snippets of conversation drifting in from all around and in all this trying to identify one voice without seeing the face from which it was coming was frustrating.
But as an experience it was both amazing and humbling. Just taking a plate from the waiter and putting it down in front of you became a risk-filled task that had me holding my breath until it was safely in place.
When the meal ended, we were led outside and in the bar area were shown pictures of the food we had eaten. Before going into the dining room we chose from a fish, meat, or vegetarian meal and asked about allergies. We were also promised that there would be nothing unusual in the menu.
And that's pretty much what Dans Le Noir does to you. Nothing can prepare you for doing something, which for many of us is a routine activity, in total darkess, without twenty five percent of your senses.
Dans Le Noir has restaurants in Paris and Moscow. Their mission to increase our understanding of disability by allowing people to sample, for a couple of hours what it is like to step inside another world.