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Dinner in the dark: a culinary challenge like no other

Dinner in the dark: a culinary challenge like no other

by Natalia PIKNA 4 min. 02.12.2022
Relying on your other senses is the only way to survive the struggle of a three-course meal with no visual aids, writes Natalia Pikna
Holding on other diners in front of you as you attempt to find your seat is one of many challenges
Holding on other diners in front of you as you attempt to find your seat is one of many challenges
Photo credit: Dans le Noir

Abandoning your phone and sense of sight for dinner may be a scary thought for most, but Dans le Noir? (In the dark?) will show you how it’s done.

What started as a wild enterprise in 2004 has since spread to cities around Europe, and has now arrived in Luxembourg at the Novotel Hotel in Kirchberg. The concept is quite simple; dinner is served in pitch-black darkness (no, really, not even your digital watch is allowed) and diners try to find their bearings. 

The whole experience is made possible by the guides, more than simple waiters, who are blind or visually impaired. They help you find your seat and cutlery and are there for any questions or help you might need. Thus, the concept also operates as a reversal of the usual relationship dynamic between those who are visually impaired and those who are not.

There is certainly a shock factor when you first enter. Lined up in a single file, the only thing to hold on to is the person in front as you are led into the dark room by the guide. 

Another odd observation upon entering the room is that it feels very loud. In the dark, people tend to speak louder as they cannot see the person they are speaking to, while at the same time auditory perception becomes all the more heightened. 

Safety of the chair

However, once you feel the safety of the chair beneath you, the body relaxes and the dishes start rolling in. 

“These are some really nice plates, Villeroy & Boch,” one of my table mates quipped, shortly after we entered the pitch-dark room and received our entrées. 

Dans le Noir

And so begins an exploration of the food in front of you and a conscious use of cutlery you may not have experienced since childhood. From beginning to end, it is an exercise in surrendering.

In such a novel environment, one could almost forget about the main ingredient of a meal, that is, the food. The menu changes every three months and is conceived by the hotel’s chef. The dishes - a starter, a main course and a dessert paired with three different wines - are faithful to the standard you would expect in a 4-star hotel but with special attention paid to messing with your senses. 

Your taste buds often fall short when you are used to seeing your food before bringing it to your mouth and when you have a set of expectations on what a dessert should look and taste like, for example. 

Looking for clues

You begin by analysing the texture, smelling it several times to confirm if it is fish or meat, and may even resort to touching it with your fingers. The whole menu is then revealed at the end of the meal, once you have come out of the dark room. 

Surprises abound when it comes to the real things you have eaten as you swear you just had it on the tip of your tongue!

An invaluable part of the night is your interactions with other people. Tables sit up to six, so if you come alone or in a pair you will be seated with strangers. A peculiar sort of solidarity and bond is born within these dark confines. 

The pressure on your visual appearance non-existent, a new comfort allows for quicker connections with the people around you. “Could you pass me the water?” becomes a logistical operation in which all members of the table must cooperate. 

Dans le Noir

In the future, taking advantage of this environment, the Luxembourgish restaurant might host speed dating sessions, as is already the case in other cities.

Raising awareness of real issues

The servers are incredible. Marie-Ange was this writer’s guide for the night, and she made the experience enjoyable from beginning to end. The concept inevitably points to a larger issue, that of employment for the visually impaired and disabled. 

One of the guides had been looking for a job in Luxembourg since 2007. All agree that their professions have infused new energy into their life and they couldn’t be more grateful. The whole team is a happy bunch, something that can truly be felt in the synergy among them. However, one cannot help but think of the many others who are left behind. 

Of course, while the experience is unique and fun, it is also meant to raise awareness and force you to put yourself in the shoes of someone who is living in darkness every single day.

By the end of your dinner, you might even forget you are in such an unusual dining situation. Feeling yourself around the table becomes simpler, and the conversation and sensory exploration become the main deal. Some wine may be spilt, chairs may be bumped but the experience will be nothing short of memorable. 

It is in a way so visceral, so physical, there are no words to accurately recount the feelings and sensations one experiences on this journey. In short, whether you are thinking of an uncommon date idea, want to tickle your taste buds, meet new people, or offer a unique gift, you can’t go wrong by turning the whole concept of dinner on its head.

More information on Dans le Noir? and how to book can be found here.

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