True darkness is debilitating. And I do not mean that in an incendiary way but pragmatically.
Remove one of most used senses from someone who relies on it and they will most likely struggle to function to the same level as before.
Give them a set of cutlery, a water jug and nine other strangers and you call it Dans le noir? A pop-up experience that is taking place at the Old Course Hotel in St Andrews until April 6.
The concept, devised first in Paris in 2004 and London in 2006 has led to the creation of six permanent restaurants from St Petersburg to Nairobi and numerous other events and experiences that aim to not only create a truly unique experience for delighted dinners but challenge preconceptions of disability, particularly in the workplace. The food is also good, or so I am told.
The canapes I chased around my plate were a mere taster of the experience, which includes a three course meal from a secret menu. Guests simply choose their meat, fish or vegetarian preference – and only discover the dishes if they manage to spear successfully in the dark, or alternatively wait until after the meal to view the menu boards displayed in the atrium.
Touching down for the first time in Scotland the Dans le noir? team is made up of waiters and waitresses from the Paris and London restaurants.
Called ‘guides’ they are all visually impaired. As the curtain is drawn back, diners – having been stripped of watches, phones or any other potentially illuminating devices – are led into a world where those who are traditionally considered handicapped, become the masters of the room.
Deftly leading guests to their tables, manoeuvring between disorientated diners and mopping up the plentiful spills is performed with spirit and gusto. “The only thing we have a problem with is the chatting,” laughed my guide Darren Paskell. “People are so intrigued and have so many questions we have to sometimes gently remind them that we are working and need to get the food out!”
Full of charisma and an infectious passion for the project Darren has been working in the London restaurant for three years. “The magic of the concept is the removal of traditional barriers between guests. People can sit next to each other without the preconception of clothing or looks or social standing and just have a conversation. It is an amazing thing to be part of.”
Fabrice Roszczka, director general at Dans Le Noir? has eaten more dining in the dark meals than many but his enthusiasm and excitement remains impenetrable. We giggled and guessed at what we could be eating. “Sometimes the best part of the night is in the room afterwards where people can’t stop talking about what they have just experienced.
“You have to focus. You have to focus on your conversation, on listening and on each thing you eat. It’s truly unique.
“I have so many great stories from the Dans Le Noir? It is hard to explain, but it is always, always a lot of fun. It creates wonder and conversation every time.”
And I agree. It is nearly impossible to describe. From the immediate relationship of dependence on your guide to the intense focus placed on each word, each reaction and of course the food, you are immersed in an experience which challenges the normal.
Fabrice finished: “Dining in the dark completely reverses the perspectives of our perception of tasting food and drink and the relations we have with other people.”
My only advice is - try it.
For further information, please visit www.dininginthedark.co.uk