For a while now, I’ve been wanting to try ‘Dining in the Dark,’ the idea of eating out in complete darkness. There are restaurants that offer it in SF, LA, San Diego, New York, Dallas, Boston, London, Paris, Barcelona, St. Petersburg, Seoul, Kuala Lampur, and in Singapore. We happened upon the one here and decided to give it a try.
The concept of dining in pitch black was born of empathy, followed by hedonism. “When guests ate dinner at the house [of a blind clergyman from Zurich], some would wear blindfolds during their meal to show solidarity with their host and to better understand his world. What [the] sighted guests found was that the blindfolds heightened their sense of taste and smell and made their dining experience more enjoyable.” So, a restaurant in Switzerland made the idea commercial, and it’s been growing ever since.
I had a decent idea of what to expect: we would be led to a table in a room of the restaurant with no light whatsoever and served several courses that we couldn’t see. I had read that, in most non-US cities, the servers are blind: not only does this create jobs for people who may struggle to secure other employment, but these people are also better-attuned to working in the dark. That was the case here, though I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t been told: their mastery of serving food and drinks in the dark was extensive.
To get a feel for how dark it was, close your eyes. What you see with your eyes closed is like broad daylight compared to what you can see in a ‘Dining in the Dark’ room. In short, there are no shadows, no sense of where things are, and only one tiny emergency reflector that casts no light beyond its location. For me, this wasn’t particularly frightening or disorienting, likely because I’ve had some experience with that level of nothingness – but I imagine that it could be quite uncomfortable. The most concerning part was walking into the room in a conga line, with my hand on B’s shoulder, to prevent tripping; I kept expecting to bump into tables or stairs in my path. Once we were seated, I felt around for the location of my silverware, for B, and for the size of the table.
It was a prix fixe menu with three courses: appetizer, entree, and dessert. Each course came out on a little wooden, rectangular tray that held four small bowls. The staff had advised us to hold each bowl up in front of our faces and try to scoop the food into our mouths to avoid making a big mess. And then the fun began: guessing what we were eating. (Skip to the end if you’re already hungry or don’t care to read food descriptions.)
- The first appetizer tasted like familiar, thin noodles, without a lot of other flavors: I kept expecting hints of dill or pesto, but no dice. When they did the big reveal at the end, they said it also included seaweed and scallop, though I swear I had none of the latter.
- Next, I tasted something that was really strongly egg-like. I didn’t like it: so much so that I just passed it over to B. Turns out that it was foie gras! I’ve had foie gras multiple times, and I don’t generally hate it, so this reveal was a major surprise for me. I would have put money on it being an egg of some sort. (It also came with a flambeed banana, which I never even tasted, given the speed at which I passed B my dish.)
- Then, there was something that had the texture of a very soft-boiled egg, but no taste, so I decided it was soft tofu. In fact, it was soft-boiled egg – and ham, but I got none of that because I had told them no pork please.
- Finally, there was something I don’t recall eating at all, but which turned out to be soft clams. Clearly quite memorable.
- First, there was a dish of moist, medium-grain rice that I assumed was congee, because of its popularity in Singapore. It was, in fact, just a risotto-like black rice. It had cubes of some kind of meat that I couldn’t place at all, but tasted kind of rubbery to me. It turned out to be steak, so shows what I (don’t) know.
- Next up was a cod dish with capers and something else mixed in: B guessed it correctly, and it pretty much tasted like it sounded.
- Then, there was another dish with cubes of meat I couldn’t place, though I thought they tasted a bit like pork. It turned out to be venison, which I don’t particularly love. It was served with spaetzle, which I only identified as ‘something flour-like.’
- Last was something that I also don’t recall at all, but turned out to be duck. I remember once again saying that it tasted like pork, so apparently, I think that all meat I don’t particularly like is pork.
- First, there was blood orange sorbet. I called it immediately, even specifically saying that it was ‘blood orange,’ and not just orange.
- Next up was a chocolate molten lava cake, with which I am obsessed. It was good.
- Then, a flaky crust pastry with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. B tasted cinnamon too, and it turned out to be a pear crumble.
- Finally, there was a panna cotta with some mango syrup and pieces of what I thought were grapefruit, but turned out to be the local (and related) pomello.
So, if you were keeping track, that all adds up to: significant cluelessness when it comes to savory dishes, and a near-perfect record on desserts. My palette isn’t great, but if you need a taste tester for sweets, you know where to find me. B is much better with savory dishes than I am. And the chef was good with both.
It is definitely expensive, but cheaper in Singapore ($66/person without drinks) than in the US, where I believe prices were $200/person. We have been eating most of our meals here at hawker centres, where food is cheap, so we had saved up for it, so to speak.
Verdict: It was delicious! Try this, if you can.