A cross between dinner and performance art, Dining in the Dark is a new trend where diners enjoy a meal with one of the key senses removed in order to heighten your other senses, such as taste. Many of these restaurants are operated by the blind in order to offer a glimpse into their world and a unique perspective on the world around you. The very first dine in the dark restaurant was opened in 1999 in Zurich, Switzerland, and is called Blindekuh (Blind man's Buff). Since then, they have grown in popularity and popped up on nearly every continent.
What to Expect:
When my husband and I stumbled across Nox, a dine in the dark restaurant in Singapore, we were excited to secure a reservation considering they book up weeks in advance. We started in the lit lobby and had a cocktail with the manager who explained the process. First, we discarded phones, watches, and anything that could reflect or provide a light source into a secure locker. Our host (a blind waiter) then led us up the stairs to our table, train style (hands on shoulders of the person in front of you). We felt around for napkin and flatware and got ourselves situated. The host told me to extend my left hand for my wine glass.
Our food came in three courses, each containing a smattering of four smaller dishes residing at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions on the tray. We were told to start at 12 and work clockwise while discussing the taste and texture, guessing at what we were eating. Time stood still as we focused on the food itself.
When we finished, our host led us back downstairs, train-style, and into the light. We learned we had been upstairs much longer than we thought. An employee walked us through a photo album of our meal. Everything we ate tasted fresh and delicious with subtle sauces and delicate textures. Some things we guessed right; others we were way off. It was enlightening to see how much we use sight to make sense of what we eat, to guide our conversations, interactions, and to determine passage of time. Dining as if one was blind was very eye-opening, so to speak.
The following is a summary of fabulous cities and first-rate restaurants where you can dine in the dark. Some dine in the dark concepts simply blindfold you, but that's not the authentic experience. This list only includes restaurants where the room is pitch black.
Blindekuh: Zurich, Basel
The first dine-in-the-dark restaurant was started by a blind clergyman named Jorge Spielman. Blindekuh Zurich, claims to be the largest private sector employer of visually impaired people in Switzerland. The restaurant regularly hosts concerts and performers as well as provides a wide array of special dine-in-the-dark events for corporations, schools, and other groups. The kitchen favors local produce and seasonal ingredients, with a menu that changes weekly. Items can ordered a la carte or pre fixe (for one or two people), which includes three to four courses plus drinks. It is open for both lunch and supper with costs ranging from for CHF 3.50 for a single dish to CHF 110 for a complete meal ($3-113 USD).
Beyond a unique dining experience, Nox was also named one of Singapore’s most romantic restaurants. The menu changes frequently and can accommodate gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan meals. The prix fixe dinner will set you back SGD $88 ($65 USD) per person for three courses with an optional additional SGD $40 ($30 USD) for wine pairings. Signature cocktails in the downstairs lounge cost SGD $20 ($15 USD).
Dans le Noir: Paris, London, Barcelona, St. Petersburg
Dans le Noir (“In the dark”) is one of the largest names in dine in the dark concepts, and what an operation it is. For the past 12 years, they've offered full meals, tasting lounges, spas, dance parties, holiday parties, and even an online boutique, in multiple cities, all in the dark. Menu options are by color: white (chef’s surprise), green (vegetarian), and red (meat eaters) with prices that vary by location. The London supper runs from £46 to £89 ($60 to 118 USD) depending on number of courses, which menu you choose and if it includes beverages. Be sure to check out their newest venture opening in Madrid in October 2016.
Nocti Vagus: Berlin
For the past 10 years, Nocti Vagus has taught patrons to see differently. They built the world’s first dark stage so you can choose between a crime dinner, a horror show, an erotic dinner, a concert or a theater performance. Monday and Tuesdays are dinner only, while Wednesday through Saturday includes a show. Prices range from €34.50 to €59 ($38-66 USD). Nocti Vagus uses the same clock system as Nox to explain where your food is.
Unsicht-Bar: Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne
Unsicht-Bar is allowing your eyes to take a well deserved break. They offer diners the option of vegetarian, beef, river and sea, poultry, cheeses, or surprise entrees. Meals are served in four courses with an appetizer, soup, entrée, and dessert. Prices range from €41.50 to €62.50 ($46 to 70 USD).
Ctaste's motto is “to see taste it must be dark.” When you enter the restaurant, you'll be asked to pick a menu: surprise (chef's choice), fish and fruits de la mar, meat and poultry, or vegetarian. Each meal contains a starter, main course, and dessert, for the price of €39.50 ($44 USD) with an additional €12.75 ($15 USD) for wine pairing. In addition to dinner, Ctaste also offers Sunday brunch, High Tea, a Date in the Dark option, and a Deluxe special. They are open Wednesdays through Sundays.
Dialogo nel Buio: Milan
Dialogo nel Buio (“Dialogue in the dark”) claims “You don’t need to see to look beyond.” They offer a café, restaurant, and theatre all in the dark. Dinner is a prix fixe menu with beverages for €50/person ($56 USD, while the theatre only portion is €20/person ($22 USD). All venues are located at the Milan Institute of the Blind.
Opaque: Santa Monica, San Francisco
Opaque takes the concept so far that even their website is "in the dark" in order to help alleviate information overload. It's completely black other than a few clickable menus and a link to OpenTable for reservations. Both in California, the San Francisco restaurant is open Wednesday through Saturday, while the Santa Monica outpost is open Thursday through Saturday. Prix fixe price is $99/person.
Market 17: Fort Lauderdale
Market17 is a normal restaurant with a separate dine-in-the-dark room. They only offer two seatings per night, and accept reservations via the phone (954.835.5507). A server will greet you in the lit area to discuss food allergies and dietary restrictions to tailor the menu, which includes four to eight courses and starts at $75/person. Optional wine pairings start at $25/person, and it is recommended to have a party of four or more.
O.Noir: Montreal, Toronto
O.Noir is Canada’s first dine-in-the-dark restaurant, and part of the profits go toward supporting local non-profits and programs for the visually-impaired. They’ve even partnered with one of those programs to help train their visually-impaired serving staff. Diners choose from a two or three course menu (CAD 34-41, $27-31 USD) with options like fresh lobster pasta, glazed baby back ribs, and filet mignon as entrees.
Dine in the Dark: Bangkok, Phnom Penh
Dine in the Dark has two locations in the Sheraton Grande in Bangkok and in Phnom Penh, each with the motto “switch off the lights, switch on your senses.” They offer an Asian menu, a Western menu, a vegetarian menu, a surprise menu, and wine pairing options. Prices range from 1450 to 2600 Baht ($41-75).
Noire is housed on the 9th floor of the Fairmont Hotel run by sighted wait staff who wear night vision goggles, but patrons still dine in complete darkness. The pre fixe menu is paired with beverages for an experience that lasts for 1.5 hours and costs AED 325 ($89 USD). The restaurant is opened Monday through Friday.
BlackOut Restaurant: Tel Aviv
Dining at BlackOut is one of three outstanding experiences offered to the
visitors of the “Nalaga’at” ("please touch" in Hebrew) cultural center,
the first of its kind in
the world. Blind and visually impaired waiters accompany their guests
to a meal in total darkness. The blackout menus also accommodate
gluten-free, lactose free, vegetarian and vegan meals. The prices are
vary between 110-180 NIS (29-47 USD) depending on your choice of menu. The short menu includes main course and desert, and the long menu includes an
additional started and aperitif. The restaurant is kosher.