The tables, chairs and cutlery are set up exactly the same at Dans Le Noir, but there’s one big (and slightly scary) difference: you can’t see them. At all. Welcome to the restaurant where you eat a full meal in the pitch black.
London Thing 837 of 1000: Dine in the dark at Dans Le Noir.
Have you ever experienced complete darkness? I’m not talking about camping with a new moon or spending the night in the world’s most remote cabin. I mean pure and utter darkness, pitch black, with not a hint of light from anywhere?
Until this past Saturday, I hadn’t either. It’s bewildering and exhilarating and, dare I say, eye-opening. Dans Le Noir is unlike anything I’ve done in London, or probably anywhere. It’s just a normal restaurant where the simplest and most necessary task, eating, becomes the most nerve-wracking.
What am I getting myself into?
It seemed the perfect fit to eat at a pitch-black restaurant at a time when London starts to get dark at 4pm. The exterior of Dans Le Noir was suitably low-lit and mysterious, not giving much away about what exactly is going on inside.
In the lobby, we were greeted by one of the super friendly employees who directed us to leave our belongings in one of the lockers and then to take a look at the menu (no, you’re not expected to read that in the dark).
The menu options are intriguingly vague and consist of four colours: green for vegetarian, red for meat, blue for fish or white for a ‘surprise’. Obviously, we had to go for white.
Dans Le Noir is definitely special-occasion meal territory, and a three-course meal with a cocktail and two glasses of wine will set you back about £75. If you’re planning to get any alcoholic drinks, the degustation menu is the best option, as a single cocktail will set you back a startling £13 anyway.
We were then led to the entrance of the darkroom, where we were met by our waiter, who is visually impaired and is infinitely better at navigating the seemingly impossible maze of diners and tables than we could ever hope to be. We put our hands on each other’s shoulders to form a mini conga line and paraded through the noise and clatter of our fellow eaters until we found our seats.
My heart was racing from the beginning, and is still racing even now as I type this. When the waiter asked me to step to the side for a moment so that he could seat someone else, I felt like my tether to the known world had been cut loose and that I was drifting into the great beyond. I was surrounded by people – I could certainly hear that – but what if I was never found again?
In the dark, you also lose your sense of time. At some point, the waiter came back for me. At some point, I was sitting at a table. At some point, the starter arrived.
I tried to use a fork. I’m still too American to bother with a knife most of the time even in broad daylight, and in the dark, there was absolutely no way. At some point, you give up and just use your fingers. That point for me was the fifth time I raised my fork to my mouth only to discover no food had made the journey. At some point, you realise there’s no judgment. No one can see you anyway.
Throughout the meal, my eyes were constantly playing tricks on me as if I were hallucinating. Faint green auras appeared in every direction, like a crappy version of the Northern Lights, streaming through my vision like waves. Sometimes distant dim light would seem to pop up in the corner of my eye, but as soon as I directed my attention toward it, it disappeared. The ‘Northern Lights’ eventually gave way to seeing something that looked like a starry night sky, which was most definitely not there.
The space is noisy, as everyone is laughing and fumbling around with their food. There were shrieks of laughter (and maybe just actual shrieks) when someone at a nearby table tried to feed the person next to them and ended up putting the fork in their neck instead of their mouth.
Eventually, we had polished off our desserts, and our waiter came by to ask us if we’d like to stay in the dark longer. Only when we were back in the lobby did we realise we’d been in there for about two and a half hours, far longer than we’d usually stay at a restaurant (especially the trendy London ones where they promise to boot you out in 120 minutes as soon as you walk in the door).
We headed to the Gallery bar upstairs for the included coffee and tea, and that’s when we got to look through the menus to see what we had eaten. Surprisingly, we had guessed the basics of almost every dish, but it seemed a shame that Dans Le Noir’s Michelin-star-style presentation was completely lost on us. (And also hilarious that I’m rooting around posh-looking food decorated with petals with my fingers, hunting down every last morsel that could be eaten.)
I won’t ruin the whole thing (and they change the menu every three months anyway), but our mains had exotic meats like buffalo and crocodile, so if you’re an omnivore, the white menu is definitely the way to go.
Dans Le Noir is pricey, but it’s a mind-boggling and bucket-list-worthy experience that gives you at least a little insight into what living with a visual impairment might be like and what it’s like to rely on your other (likely under-developed) senses and put your trust in the people around you.
Anything nearby to do when I’m done?
If you want to continue along the sense deprivation and distortion vibe, try one of the many pubs in the area serving high ABV brews like Trappist ales The Dovetail or craft beer at BrewDog Clerkenwell. Or just get completely lost all over again trying to find the ‘pulpit’ seats in the Jerusalem Tavern.
Eat: Dans Le Noir, 30-31 Clerkenwell Green, London, EC1R 0DU. Tube Farringdon.
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