Dare to dine in the dark?
When Tim meets Mary in the classic romcom About Time, they’re sitting in the most quintessentially quirky meet-cute setting: a dark restaurant. Based off of the famous Dans Le Noir in Islington, the restaurant is operated by blind waiters whilst the patrons temporarily give up their own sight. In About Time, this gives way to comedy and romance. Less is said about the menu itself.
On a recent trip to Poznan, Poland, my friends and I visited Dark, wanting to find out whether blinding one of our senses would improve our others. Dark evocatively claims that “Good taste arises at night,” and apparently has a trademark on events happening in the dark in Poland, a claim that is as impressive as it is slightly bewildering.
Much like New Labour, the Millennium Dome, and the dregs of Britpop, dark restaurants only really took off in the late 90s. It’s not hard to see why: a novelty that seems to have some pseudo-nutritional benefits was catnip to a newly gastronomically-obsessed Britain. Times have changed now, and it can feel like a meal out if just as much about the aesthetic pictures you can snap for Instagram as it is the experience of eating itself.
So how would it feel to strip all that away to just the taste in our mouths?
Upon our arrival at Dark, I was starting to have reservations. Not only was there a gargoyle angel scary enough to spook David Tennant at the entrance, but a series of stone steps that spiralled out into the darkness before us. Was I about to lead my friends to a deadly fate, or worse – would the menu be all meat and gristle for the vegetarian in the group (me)?
Not to fear, because on descending the stairs we were met by a very friendly team in a cave-like space who ran us through the set-up for the evening. We were told to turn off our phones (no snaps for this article!) and asked about any allergies or dietary preferences. Aside from being the vegetarian of the group, the others said “we’ll eat anything,” and just like that, we were led through to the restaurant.
Told to put our hands on the person in front’s shoulder, we emerged like a blindfolded conga line through two thick curtains. There is no overstating how dark it was. I have not experienced such total and complete blackness since coming out of the womb. The only lights were the occasional red dot from the waiter’s night-vision goggles that bobbed around like deep-sea fish antennae. It would’ve been quite alienating if we hadn’t all been there together, and had a bell on the table to ding if we needed help… or the loo.
Our first course arrived, and we were in trouble. I picked up my knife and fork but for all my efforts couldn’t pick up anything from the plate. We all accepted we’d have to return to basics, and eat with our hands, a pretty liberating experience (and not as messy as you might think, there was hand sanitiser on the table). We could only make haphazard guesses in the darkness but were surprised to find we’d been eating a collection of dumplings.
Mine had chickpea, celery, and plum jelly cubes in, whilst the meat-eaters had veal triangles. That description does not do it justice – which is just as well, because we never would’ve picked ‘veal’ off of a menu but everyone thoroughly enjoyed the first course.
We moved onto the main, after feeling around my plate I was happy to discover it was filo pastry with jackfruit, whilst my friends had deer and duck between them. We were mostly able to identify flavours, but the green beans wrapped in courgette slivers had been smoked to taste like bacon, and it had everyone fooled.
Most of the food was Polish, presenting another barrier for our English taste buds, but making the reveal all that much more interesting. It was surprising how little sight mattered. I’m not sure if it improved the food, or if the quality was just that high, but all of our plates were fingertip-wiped clean.
By the time we got to dessert, we were eager to try the Dark Side of the Spoon. I had a mango mousse with vegan meringues and my friends enjoyed a chocolate brownie with a cigarette waffle and a plum deceptively cooked in raspberry juice. We had the wine pairing, and so ended on a sweet dessert wine.
On exiting the dark and blinking like mole rats, we were shocked to find that a whole two hours had elapsed! We’d been sure the whole thing must’ve taken half an hour at most.
Although we didn’t meet any bumbling Englishman like Tim at Dark, we got something much better: a way of opening our eyes to new food, all whilst in the dark.