Dining without being able to see the food? Dining in the Dark sounds extraordinary: a unique experience for all the senses. Moreover, it’s promoted as the best or second best restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. So naturally my friend and I made a booking.
And it was indeed fascinating. The blacker than black air filling the room (I presume it was a room). Entry step by cautious step (sans phone or any device that can emit light) holding the shoulders of a blind or partially sighted waiter. Being seated at a small table, hands guided towards the implements. Then the first course placed in front of us, ready for our teeth.
Here are my honest impressions. Lovely people, lovely idea, and thousands will continue to visit (once) and sing the praises of this restaurant, so one ambivalent review will not hurt their business. I’m glad of that.
The simplest foods impressed
Four appetisers were placed before us separately but simultaneously. The second one I tasted was a piece of steamed squash (?) with a splash of sweet chilli sauce(?). The sauce was a distractor—probably out of a bottle. But I did intensely relish the fresh, natural flavour of the squash as never before. Such a humble vegetable, served with no fancyfication, no crumbing or battering or whipping or combining with other ingredients. No confusion, either. I felt as if I had never appreciated squash until that moment.
And for me, that was the highlight of the evening. That experience was surely the very purpose of dining in the dark: to heighten your sense of taste.
My other favourites were equally spartan. One of two soups and one of four desserts hit me in a similar way.
Too many, too much, too messed up
I hated having three main course plates served together: too much food and just plain annoying. One plate with pasta, one a casserole perhaps—I don’t know. Later, we were shown the menu and discovered that we had eaten beef, chicken and duck. Yet astonishingly, neither of us had identified the meats. We couldn’t distinguish beef from chicken, imagine that, or spot the style of cuisine. The texture and taste seemed identical. Now that’s weird, right? And honestly, the food was not great.
Socially and psychologically a fail
I wanted to like it. I kidded myself I liked it. All through the meal we both exclaimed about how interesting this was. After all, it was a unique experience, and an education, and a worthy cause. But afterwards, we both confessed that this was far from a top night out. We’d had more fun eating a simple pasta dish the night before.
Besides the problems I’ve mentioned above, I did not like our conversation over the meal. Imagine two old friends who typically talk and talk and talk, whose conversation goes deep and high and wide and big and small, who wear each other out with their talking. Now imagine us sitting across from each other over a meal, talking about one thing only, over and over: what food am I eating?
Not only boring, but anxiety-inducing, as if every ingredient of every dish was a test. Was I right? Did I pass? Turned out we both failed pretty much all the time, although we often agreed on a wrong answer. But failing wasn’t the point. This was like spending time in a horrible classroom with a patronising teacher testing us over and over and over again. I’m not talking about the staff: they couldn’t have been more considerate. The teacher was in our heads, I know, but so what?
How to improve this interesting restaurant
Based on a case study of two customers, I have learned the following:
- We got the most pleasure, and the strongest taste sensation, from eating simple fresh foods that we recognised. In the dark, even these were challenge enough.
- If food is too plentiful and too varied, in the dark, tastes become a blur.
- If the food isn’t excellent, and your customers focus exclusively on the food, that’s a fail.
- If you focus exclusively on the food in the dark, the arteries of conversation shrink and harden.
- It’s tempting to exaggerate your enjoyment of an adventure.