Imagine impenetrable darkness. Have you ever done a tour of a cave where they turned off all the lights and it was so dark that it did not matter if your eyes were opened or closed? That kind of darkness. How would you feel about eating a five-course meal in such darkness, pouring your own beverages and feeding yourself soup? In my case, it was the most fun I’ve had in awhile.
Our friends from the States are visiting for a week and we made reservations at Restaurant Noir. The restaurant does themed dinners and last night’s theme was stories from the “1001 Arabian Nights.” When we arrived we were seated in a (lit) lounge, offered some “Oriental” tea, and given the menu so we could choose our “menu” (in the Austrian, “set meal” sense of the word).
We were not choosing what we were eating, mind you. There were five options: vegetarian, fish, poultry, fish, or mixed. There were clues about what the courses were and the language was phrased within the style of the evening’s dining theme, but you did not know exactly what you were getting. You told the host whether you wanted three, four, or five courses and which option you wanted. (I went with the fish, in case you were dying to know.) This was also the time to tell the staff if you had any allergies.
Once you ordered you were asked to leave watches, phones, etc. in a locker in the lit area of the restaurant, then the guide came to gather up all the people being seated at the reserved seating time. The guide was a blind person who led the diners down a pitch black stairwell into the (also pitch black) subterranean dining area, brought your plates and took them away, provided more drinks as necessary, and brought you back to the lit area at the end of the meal. Everything else (pouring the drinks, eating your meal) was up to you.
I’ll admit that being utterly unable to see was freaky at first, but the guide was very comforting in many senses. She had a great sense of humor and made us laugh to break up the anxious mood, and she offered sugar water to help relax people who were having a harder time to adjust. She also brought us “puzzles” to solve in between courses: bags of spices to sniff, toys to identify by shape, different type of textiles to feel. There was also an auditory show between the courses, but it was all in German so a lot of it was lost on us.
All this is to say that it was a very fun experience. But what about the food? My god, the food! Let me put it this way: after the first course I gave up all attempts to use utensils and greedily ate up my food using only my hands. Even better, I was able to give in to my long-held desire to lick my plate clean because no one could see and judge me. From this you should infer that the food was that good. Everyone at our table was in agreement that the food was phenomenal.
After we were done (it was a two-hour experience), the guide led us back to the lit area of the restaurant. The staff served us coffee and we talked about what we thought we had eaten, and what we thought the various spices, toys, and textiles were. The guide then gave us pictures of everything that we ate, and this was the most interesting part of the entire evening. In my case, I had eaten an entire lemon’s worth of lemon wedges without having a clue.
I also ate: pea soup with a shrimp skewer, a salad topped with smoked salmon and green beans, salmon with rosemary potatoes and lemon wedges, grilled shrimp and snow peas, and chocolate mousse with cherries and red chili powder. When we left the restaurant satiated and happy, we were given bottles of the restaurant’s house white wine to take home with us.