Article by Joanna Sarah-Freedman
It’s quite surreal getting ready for a blind date – and by that, I don’t mean a blind date by its traditional definition, but rather a date in total darkness.
What do you wear? Do you bother with a full face of makeup? Would trackie bottoms do?!
Before we go any further, I should probably give you some context. You see, according to its own waiting staff, London restaurant, Dans Le Noir is a bit of a hotspot for dates.
The restaurant offers a dining experience like no other, with a totally blacked-out room that is supposed to encourage visitors to focus closely on the flavour of the food in front of them.
But could it be that the darkness offers even more potential? Could the pitch black actually enhance a dinner date?!
Just ahead of Valentine's Day, I decided to find out.
Dans Le Noir is a pitch black restaurant based in London (Credit: Dans Le Noir/ Facebook)
Twisted tries… a dinner date in the dark
Tragic as it may sound, I’ve never had a proper, sit-down dinner on a first date before, let alone one in the dark. But as someone with certified Hinge-fatigue, I was open-minded about the idea of anything different.
For one, I can certainly understand the appeal of cutting the vanity out of dating. In a world where we’re all obsessed with appearances and ‘vibes’, wouldn’t it be great if we could just focus on conversation, energy, and how well two people actually got on?
That must have been the appeal of Dans Le Noir to some singles, right? Of course, that, and the sheer novelty of a date in total darkness.
All it took was a flick through the dating apps to find an eager participant – although, whether that was just on account of the free meal is another matter! Either way, I picked a date from the bunch and filled him in on what lay ahead of us.
The application process was a rigorous one (Credit: Joanna Freedman)
Granted, sourcing someone in this way meant the experience wasn’t totally blind, but I figured a three-course meal with a total stranger in the dark was enough of an experiment for one day.
Entering the restaurant
I needn't have worried about the date being blind anyway, as ahead of the meal itself, I bumped into my companion, Sam, on the street outside. He was easy to spot, as dates often are, as he rocked up looking around, a little lost.
We barely had time for introductions (though I did manage to vet that he wasn’t a catfish, phew) before we were ushered into the foyer and asked to hand over phones, watches, or anything that could give off light.
I hadn’t expected this for some reason, and suddenly felt a little disarmed. I’d met this guy mere seconds ago and we were venturing into the dark together. No distractions and no sneaky updates on the girls' group chat… we really only had each other for company.
We were greeted at the door of the dining room by our waiter, Gal, who was totally blind (all the hosts are blind or visually impaired). He instructed us to form what I can only describe as a conga line, without the dancing and leg kicking.
An example of said conga line (Credit: Dans Le Noir)
Sam placed his hand on Gal’s shoulder, I held onto Sam’s, and another waiter followed behind me. We entered the restaurant and shuffled along to our table as Gal called out the directions to us.
It was definitely odd to be clinging to my date within minutes of meeting, but if I didn’t in that moment then I would have almost certainly smacked into a table of unsuspecting diners.
So far, so bizarre.
The ins and outs of a pitch-black meal
After a bit of fumbling from us and some guidance from Gal, we made it to our table and into our seats. It was dark – like, totally dark, in case I haven’t mentioned. You couldn’t see your hand if it was right in front of your face.
What was immediately strange was that we didn’t know how big the room was, or who else was around us. We were sat next to two men, but it was difficult to gauge how close they were.
‘They’re gonna immediately clock that we’re on a first date,’ I cringed to myself. Thankfully, they left a short while after we were seated, although, in fairness, I’m not sure they would have noticed anyway.
You see, it took less than a few minutes to realise that, without the distraction of sight, your other senses really heighten. I found myself tuning into the conversation with a concentration that other dates are rarely afforded. Granted, we were both probably speaking at quite an elevated volume, but apparently, that’s normal.
It's a challenge finding your cutlery in the dark (Credit: Dans Le Noir)
There were other voices echoing around, but you had no choice but to hang off each other’s words. It strangely helped me to feel grounded in an otherwise disorientating situation. Then again, if I had been with someone I didn’t at least somewhat get on with then it could have been painfully awkward…
The first hurdle came when Gal placed a bottle of water on the table and we were left to navigate its journey into our glasses. Chivalrously, Sam offered to pour it, which involved feeling around for the bottle and then placing a finger in the top of each glass in order to identify when they were about to overfill.
He managed this successfully, but we did hear a shattering noise a few minutes later from another (rather rowdy) table. This is a regular occurrence, apparently, and given the total darkness, anything dropped is left to be cleared up after service.
The food was more of a challenge than the drinks. Dans Le Noir famously has a totally secret menu, and the idea is that you’re meant to guess what’s in front of you with nothing but the aromas, the feel, and - of course - the taste, for guidance.
Our waiter arrived at the table and asked us to put our hands out in the air. Then, he expertly felt for them and placed our plates into them, before we lowered them in front of us.
The food looks a treat... not that we could see it (Credit: Dans Le Noir)
What followed next was the complete antithesis of anything you’d usually do on a date (or ever, for that matter). We set about gingerly prodding the food in front of us to try and work out what it was. All dating etiquette was long abandoned as I ran my hands through a quinoa and beetroot salad, no doubt flicking pieces of crispy kale at Sam and around the table in the process.
I had the vegan menu whilst my date had the regular one, so we both had different food in front of us, but it was fun to hear him tentatively nibbling on his, trying to deduce what it could be.
Lucky for him, whether a consequence of nerves or the uniqueness of the whole experience, I found myself unable to finish my starter or my main, which resulted in a few awkward attempts to jab a fork at him in the dark, so he could sample mine, too.
Picture Lady and the Tramp but way less romantic – there was no chance of kissing over a string of spaghetti, here. In fact, even passing cutlery involved a lot of flailing arms and awkward misses.
These two seemed to manage sharing food more elegantly than us (Credit: Dans Le Noir)
Alongside our starter and our main, we had a wine pairing, too, which meant sipping back and forth between different glasses to work out which was wine and which was water.
Throughout the whole experience, I was filled with a lot of respect for visually impaired people and the reality that they navigate when they go out to eat, and also a certainty that they do so with much more elegance than we managed.
Would we recommend Dans Le Noir for a first date?
However unusual the whole experience of dining in the dark was, it was certainly fun. Plus, it weirdly added a bit of a theme to the conversation, in the same way you’d talk about putting technique on a mini golf date, or any other activity date for that matter.
As editor here at Twisted, it won’t surprise you to know that food is one of my favourite topics of conversation on a date anyway, so I was very much in my element here. Saying that, if you don’t wanna be caught out mistaking tuna for chicken (sorry, Sam) then this might not be the natural activity for you.
When we finished our meal, we were out of the dark the same way we walked in, and it kind of felt like walking out of a nightclub into the glaring light. I was a little nervous that I’d emerge with food down myself, or that on closer inspection, we’d both be horrified at the sight of each other.
Luckily, neither of us seemed to get too much of a shock as we departed, bleary-eyed and a little dizzy. The light felt jarring at first, though, and when we faced each other downstairs there was a weird feeling of unfamiliarity, despite also knowing that we had just chewed each other’s ears off for close to two hours.
We finished the evening with a debrief in the pub across the road, thankful to finally be able to see each other for more than just a second.
Instantly I became aware of the other factors that contribute to a date, among those of us who are able to see – body language; eye contact and the like. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re on a date with someone you get on with, then a pitch-black room and some food chat will undoubtedly highlight that, which is great.
But there’s no denying for those unfamiliar with dating in darkness, it’s definitely harder to build chemistry and suss out each other’s energy without falling back on the social cues you’re usually privileged enough to have at your disposal.
Of course, maybe this highlights a laziness on the part of sighted people like us, or ultimately proves that we’re more driven by vanity than we’d care to admit. Whatever the reason, we both conceded to preferring the latter part of the night, for a first date, anyway.
Despite all this, there’s no denying that Dans Le Noir provided us with an evening unlike anything we’d experienced before, which some might say is a breath of fresh air in the current dating landscape.
Rather than meeting someone for the first time, I’d probably recommend it for groups of friends, birthdays or couples who are seeing each other more seriously, not least because prices start at £52-a-head. Then again, if you wanna splurge and you fancy a wildly different first date, though, then, honestly, why not?
“There’s plenty to talk about just because of how unusual the whole thing is,” Sam noted. “And if you don’t get on in the pitch black then when can you?”
Featured image: Dans Le Noir