28 Jan Dans Le Noir?, South Yarra
Dans le Noir ? translates to ‘In the Dark ?’. It’s a concept that was first brought to life in Paris, initially organised in conjunction with blind foundations to raise awareness about disability. 14 years later, the concept is still going strong and has now expanded internationally – London, Barcelona and Madrid to name but a few cities – and the restaurants are so popular that they can be booked out up to two month in advance.
Melbourne is the first Australian city to have the privilege of having a Dans Le Noir? restaurant, and Como is hoping to continue hosting it for as long as possible. We arrive at a small waiting area, passing our bags and any light-emitting belongs to the staff for safe keeping. We’re presented with a choice of menus: ‘Feed Me Chef’, seafood or vegan, either as a three or five course meal. Matched wines and other drinks are also available.
Lining up in front of the restaurant’s entrance, we close our eyes tight, and are led to our seats follow-the-leader style, with hands on the shoulders of the person in front of us. Our guides have visually impairment and are the perfect people to lead us through the evening, which is held in pitch blackness. We arrive safely to our seats, albeit much slower than we’re used to; communication is key.
It’s daunting at first, as we try to orient ourselves with the table setting, pour water into our glasses, and get to know our fellow diners. We gradually relax and settle in as we accommodate to our surroundings and temporary loss of sight. Having had a rough sleep the previous night due to the stifling heat, it’s actually nice to be able to rest my eyes for most of the evening without anyone knowing. As the night progresses, there are opportunities for us to to ask our guide about the restaurant itself, as well as their personal experiences of visual impairment. It cultivates understanding and empathy, and wonderment at the ability of the human body to adapt and evolve.
We all turn out to be more coordinated than we think, and thankfully no spillages of water (or red wine!) occur, though at times it is just much easier to use our hands than the cutlery provided. It’s a test of our sense of taste and smell, and encourages mindful eating as we try to discern what exactly we’re eating. All we know is that it’s a seasonal menu by The Como’s Executive Chef, Dinesh Munirathinam.
Since there’s no light inside, there are no food photos for me to show, but you’d want to keep that as a surprise anyhow. After being led out of the restaurant the same way we entered, we’re asked to guess what we were served for dinner. There are a few good guesses, but also many surprises.
Dans Le Noir? is a truly unique and unforgettable experience that will be talked about for years to come. It may be a little more expensive than your typical 3 or 5 course menu, but you won’t experience anything else like it.
Dans Le Noir? at The Como currently runs from Thursday to Sunday evenings. Dinners last for 2-3 hours depending on the menu chosen; $95 for the 3-course menu, or $115 for 5. Wine matching and other drinks available for extra. Bookings required.