The question mark in Dans Le Noir ? is puzzling at first but makes sense the moment you enter the lobby of the restaurant, which is lined with gym lockers to store your belongings, as though you were about to strap into a ride with a splash zone. And, in many ways, you are, because soon your server will lead you down a corridor, beyond two curtains and into a dining room that is entirely pitch black. The whole experience is a question.
On a recent visit to London, my friend—who had seen Dans Le Noir ? in the 2013 movie About Time—suggested we visit the restaurant. The chain was founded in 2004 by French entrepreneur Edouard de Broglie and has since spread across the globe, to varying success. (New York’s location closed in 2012.) Mesmerized by the gimmick, we wondered what it would be like to eat a multi-course meal we couldn’t see. Would the flavors taste more intense? Would we be able to find our mouths? Was it true that we could get naked without anyone noticing? We’d heard rumors, and we needed answers.
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After we locked up our bags and phones (I felt pangs of separation anxiety immediately,) we lined up behind our server, Jack, gripping each other’s right shoulders as he led us to the dining room. The moment we were swallowed by darkness, I panicked. I panicked hard. Normally when you enter a dark room, your eyes eventually adjust, but here, they do not—not once for the next two hours could I make out shapes or even shades of dark. Your eyes may as well be closed. I could hear diners chatting jovially, though I had no sense of how many people were in the room. The food smelled delicious, so I took a deep breath and let Jack guide me to my seat and walk me through the positioning of the water, napkins and silverware. To get acclimated, I felt around in front of me, accidentally sticking my fist into a glass water. (My hands make fists when I’m nervous.) Jack told us that most people end up eating the meal, a surprise menu from chef Rafal Zaremba, with their hands.