Dining in total darkness! All is completely obscure. Your food, your companions, your eating utensils, even your own hand. Total darkness! When my husband, Gary’s assistant mentioned a new restaurant in London, Dans le Noir, I was most curious. The twist on this place was that one ate in total darkness. I mean, total darkness. You were assigned a blind waiter and he was your “guide”.
We had already planned to take one of Gary’s school colleagues and his girlfriend to dinner. Consequently, I had one of my many brilliant ideas.
“Gary, lets surprise them and take them to Dans le Noir!”
Gary immediately agreed. (I sometimes wonder how often he regrets agreeing to my ideas.) For two weeks this couple were held in suspense. They pleaded to know where we were taking them. I was silent! I couldn’t wait to surprise them with this treat. Of course Gary was very well acquainted with Sam, a transplanted Yank. I had only met his girlfriend, Natalie, a young teacher at the school once. She was a Brit, born and bred and I looked forward to getting acquainted with her over a nice dinner. Albeit, somewhat dark.
I had told my daughter what we had planned. She related a recent episode of CSI in which a diner had been murdered in a restaurant like this. This sordid tale did not deter me. I reassured her with a quote from the restaurant’s website, “infra red cameras are used and keep records to ensure visitors’ welfare and safety. Please be assured that we only watch the records in case of an incident or on customer request.” That was good enough for me.
We arrive at Dans Le Noir. I can hardly wait for them to join us in this experience, which, granted Gary and I had prepared for two weeks. They were still oblivious to the type of restaurant.
We are met at the door by a very French maitre d’, who addresses us,
“So, Mesdames and messieurs, you are ready to eat in total, pitch darkness, oui?”
Sam heard what the man said, but could not fully comprehend it. He just stared at the man in disbelief. Natalie, on the other hand, obviously had not heard or understood exactly what he had said. She was still smiling and ooing and ahhing over the subdued lounge décor.
“Natalie,” I enunciated every word and slowly repeated what the man had just told us, “We are going to eat in total darkness. Pitch black. Won’t this be fun?” It never occurred to me that she would not be as delighted as I.
The smile left her face to be replaced by a pasty whiteness. It was my first hint that perhaps we were in trouble.
I knew that if it were at all feasible, Natalie would have bolted. Her whole demeanor changed. She was no longer the bubbly young ingénue. She was now a most disturbed individual, who could not order a double shot of vodka quick enough.
Natalie immediately informed us she sometimes got claustrophobic. Oh great. She was readily assured by the maitre d’ that she could leave the blackened dining room at any time, if she so desired. They didn’t mention a seeing eye dog would be assisting her. Good sport that she was, she said she’d give it a whirl. Well, not a whirl, she probably would have fallen down.
We are assigned our blind waiter, Roberto. And he instructed me to put my right hand on his shoulder, and the others to follow suit with the person in front of them. Somewhat of a conga line, without the music.
We enter hesitantly through black curtains and soon we are in total, total darkness. However, we do hear voices, lots of voices. Natalie just stopped. No more going forward for her. Consequently I couldn’t proceed any further. She was squeezing muscles in my shoulder I didn’t even know still existed. Roberto said to me, “you cannot stop, or we’ll never get to the table.” I pleaded with him, “I’m not stopping, the lady behind me is.” I relay Roberto’s message to Natalie and she hesitantly continues. Much like someone being lead to the guillotine.
He points out the exact position of the chairs, where the table is located and we fumble our way sitting down. Natalie and I sit down next to each other. Gary and Sam are sitting across from us. However, Sam realizes that Natalie is not directly across from him. In fact, he realizes it in a most stressed voice. And I suddenly become aware that he has not said a word since he heard, quite clearly from the maitre d”, “So, Mesdames and messieurs, you are ready to eat in total, pitch darkness?”
Gary and Sam switch places.
Natalie whispers to me Sam sometimes has anxiety attacks. Lovely.
Should he bolt, which he is threatening to do, you can see nothing. He starts calling in a most embarrassingly loud voice, “Roberto! Roberto!” And thank god Roberto answers and Sam says, “You are right here, all the time??? ALL the time?” And Roberto, who is probably, unbeknownst to us, rolling his blind eyes, says, “Yes, sir, no problem”.
When you first sit down Roberto points out where your big glass is, your small glass and your knife and fork. We had ordered a jug of water and bottle of wine and they put the wine right next to the wall, where I was sitting so I was the official wine pourer. The only way I could do it was put my finger in the glass, but let me tell you that didn’t bother Sam and Natalie one little bit, they were downing that wine.
Sam starts to calm down a little. I asked Sam how his appetizer was and he said, “I can’t eat because I’m holding Natalie’s hand.” Natalie noted that he was not holding her hand, he was crushing her hand. Natalie continually felt my hair and petted my sweater. Weird, but as long as it kept her from bolting, okay by me. I kept thinking back to the couple in the Rocky Horror Show.
Sam kept talking about disembodied voices, just “floating” around us. He even started to converse with a feminine voice near him. Her name was Teresa. He asked her how her food was and she replied, “Great, Sam, how’s yours?”
We soon abandoned all precepts of using a knife and fork. You haven’t lived till you’ve eaten stewed vegetables with your fingers. The food was good, at least it felt good.
We finished eating and Roberto lead us out into the light of the lounge. Glorious light! Even I was relieved. My babysitting job was over. And who should be there to greet Sam in the lounge? Teresa! They are now fast friends, as people often are who have shared a night of terror.