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Black Banquet

Latest update : 2008-01-09

Parisians have been blindly making their way to Dans le Noir, where diners eat in pitch darkness and are served by visually impaired staff.

In many ways this restaurant “in the dark” can be compared with its wicked neighbour: a sensual feeling creeps in as one walks into a dark mysterious room, where complete strangers share the same table. Many find the atmosphere thrilling. Others find it somewhat unsettling.
Before entering the dark void, one is greeted in a brightly lit bar where diners are asked to lock up all their belongings including digital watches and their mobiles. Customers wait as their names are called out: “Mohamed and Julie, you both are on Elizabeth’s table.” I don’t know either of them!
To add to everyone’s excitement, the Dans le Noir team strongly recommends the surprise menu. Once the order is placed, the real adventure begins. Diners hold on to one another as they make their way through a dimly lit passage. “And especially watch out for the bottle,” shouts out the waiter escorting us through the corridor. He may be blind but he’s no different from most of the gruff Parisian waiters. (Bottles, by the way, are always put in the middle of the table and not on the side.)
And finally, after passing through two curtains, I am  allowed to enter Dans le Noir’s dark dining room. The complete darkness makes me fumble and become claustrophobic. As I get accustomed to my surroundings, I feel more at ease. I can throw my table etiquette out of the window, pick my nose, and stick my tongue out at my neighbour. As I imagine myself behaving like an eight-year old, the diner sitting behind me reassuringly grabs my shoulder. “Take it easy, Sam,” he says. My name is Elizabeth.
Once seated, I explore the table top with my hands, trying to locate the cutlery. I hit my neighbour by mistake. The bottle is safely placed in the middle. The starters arrive, and the plate feels big. I decide to take advantage of the darkness and eat with my hands – only God can see me!
The starters are sumptuous. The chef’s culinary imagination seemed to have gone completely wild with slightly bitter tabbouleh, crisp cheesy fritters and a bitter-tasting vegetable which tasted liked French endives but was probably swiss chard. Everyone guesses aloud.
“They seem to be feeding us testicles of a rabbit.”
“Hey Julie, doesn’t this taste like fish?”
“Exactly, I hope no one’s allergic to seafood.”
“Yes, in fact I am in agony” barks out Julie, as she pretends to moan in pain.
As the evening becomes more jovial and loud, Benoit, the head waiter, reminds us that the loud chatter could perturb the serving staff. Lowering our tone, we anxiously wait for the main course.
The food is copious. Once again the chef seemed to have put our taste buds to the test. A salmon lies on an exotic sauce: thank God it’s boneless. Chunks of parmesan cheese lie amid sliced mushrooms. Everyone is guessing again: Stewed turnip in caramel sauce? Or maybe some sort of a custard tart.
A loud crash on a table near by; one of the guests obviously forgot to “put the bottle in the centre of the table.” Short and stoic, Benoit brings us our desserts. It’s dark chocolate with fresh fruit – a perfect end to our dinner in the dark.

Date created : 2006-12-06