Most foodies would agree that a great dining experience should be one that stimulates, stretches and titillates the senses – and few dining experiences will stretch your senses further than Clerkenwell's fashionable new restaurant, Dans Le Noir. Part eatery, part grown-up themed adventure, Dans Le Noir will open your eyes to a whole new gastronomical experience – by having you eat your dinner in the dark.
Its French name, which literally translates to 'In the Black' gives away its Parisian origins. The first branch opened there in 2004 with the support of the Paul Guinot Foundation for Blind People, and true to form, all the waiters in Dans Le Noir are blind – which for once gives them an obvious advantage over their sighted patrons. Intrepid diners start the adventure in the semi-lit front bar of the restaurant which is equipped with lockers so that you can feel confident that your valuables are safe until your appetite is sated and your sight restored. It's also in this lit bar section of the restaurant that you're free to examine the menu. Diners can choose what they'd like to eat a la carte, or if you're feeling braver and want to put your taste buds to the test, you can select from one of the 'Surprise Menus'. You can choose the Red Menu for meat, the Blue Menu for seafood, the Green Menu for vegetarian or the Chef's Menu which has a bit of everything. Those with allergies should also make these known to the staff at this point.
Once everyone has ordered, diners form a kind of conga line with their hands on each others shoulders and are lead out of the bar and into the darkness. And by dark, they don't mean mood-lighting, and they don't mean trendy semi-gloom – they mean full, total, complete blackout darkness. After you're seated and the initial disorientation begins to recede, you'll discover all of the challenges of eating sightless (it's hard to know how much wine to pour, and your knife, fork and napkin take turns disappearing) and also all of the benefits. Namely - conversation between complete strangers is wonderfully free and flowing as inhibitions are discarded along with the ability to eye each other up. And half the fun of the experience is guessing the tastes and textures of the Surprise Menus. Without visual cues, flavours explode on the tongue as though for the first time. The menu is predominantly European fare, though with an interesting penchant for the exotic – ostrich and barracuda are wild cards that sit alongside more recognizable steak and duck to add a little challenge to the game of "Guess what's for Dinner". The prices are a little more than your average gastropub (starting at about £50 per person) but reflect the dining experience, which is like no other.
All in all, Dans Le Noir is not just a night out – it's a night out of the ordinary. And you don't even have to worry about what to wear – no one will be able to see you anyway!