I’m always open to new experiences. When I travel I constantly try to challenge myself and to venture outside of my comfort zone.
So when I discovered that Poznan, Poland (where I was headed for a long weekend break with two of my closest friends) is home to a restaurant where diners eat their whole meal in complete darkness, I knew this was something I had to try for myself.
“Dark dining” is, surprisingly, not a new concept; it began in Switzerland in 1999 at Zurich-based restaurant, Blinde Kuh. Soon after came dark dining restaurant chain Dans le Noir, which now has branches in Paris, London, and New York.
The theory behind this novel idea is to demonstrate just how much we rely on sight when we’re eating. Remove that one principal sense and suddenly we struggle to recognise foods we normally have no trouble identifying.
However, without sight our other senses – like taste, touch and smell – are intensified, and we begin to pay more attention to them. Blind dining improves our palette, and ultimately enriches our dining experience.
There are three menu choices on offer at Poznan’s Dark Restaurant – Standard, Mood or Bizarre. And in the hours leading up to our meal the three of us were filled with intrigue and trepidation as to what the latter two menu options might include. We had visions of foods that are believed to be aphrodisiacs, such as strawberries, chocolate and oysters, and of foods that made our skin crawl, such as deep fried insects, bull’s testicles. pig’s ears, and chicken’s feet.
Arrival at the restaurant
When we arrived at the restaurant we met with our waitress who made a note of any foods each of us were allergic to and any we did not eat or did not want to eat. Gloria is a vegetarian, I’m a pescetarian (I eat fish but I don’t eat meat), and Kath eats everything (her own words!).
Gloria and I were advised that as we were non-meat eaters, the Bizarre Menu option was not available to us, which frightened Kath into choosing the Mood option instead. Gloria and I followed suit. We’d come for a novel experience so we sure as hell didn’t want to eat “standard food”.
Before being taken through to the pitch-black dining room we were given a run-through of the restaurant’s rules and regulations. The use of mobile phones (or other devices that may provide a source of light) is strictly prohibited, and if we wanted to use the toilet we had to ring a bell to summon the waitress, who would subsequently guide us carefully out of the room.
Plunged into complete darkness
Our waitress instructed each of us to put our left hand on the left shoulder of the person in front, and then slowly led us to our table with the aid of night vision goggles. When we arrived at our table I found myself feeling around the edges of the table in order to determine its size and location. I then felt for the wooden chair I’d be sitting on and for its position in relation to the table in front of me.
There was a finger bowl half-filled with water to the right of each of us on the table and a few sets of cutlery to our sides. Whilst cutlery seemed somewhat superfluous at the time, considering that we could see absolutely nothing (no outlines, no shapes, no colours; just blackness), I did find myself using my fork part the way through my first course, because eating with your fingers is messy at the best of times. And especially when you can’t see what you’re eating. I was also convinced I was going to knock my bowl of water all over Kath.
Sampling the food
Before our starters arrived, we ordered a “surprise cocktail” each and were given a selection of appetisers to sample. Whilst what we thought was mozzarella with fenugreek seeds was actually Bavarian sheep’s cheese, we were spot on identifying the cucumber with honey and the pickled radish, and – even though we never found out – we were convinced we’d correctly identified our drink as Pimms and lemonade with cucumber. They really do love their cucumber in Poland!
Now I’m not going to spoil the experience for you by revealing exactly what we were served (our waitress sent the full menu to us in an email the following day), but what I will say is that it was a hell of a lot of fun attempting to place flavours and textures without the aid of sight, and that whilst most of our guesses were spot on or at least somewhere near, some of them were way off the mark in rather hilarious and unexpected ways.
Between us we managed to mix up pork and duck, cucumber and melon, and melted cheese and white chocolate.
Our overall impressions
Although this wouldn’t be an ideal experience for a solo traveller or for a first date, book a table with your partner, your family or a group of friends and I guarantee that you’ll have a fascinating and hugely enjoyable time.
Not only did we find ourselves attempting to identify what we were eating by smelling it, touching it and tasting it, but we also started to consider the size and shape of the room we were dining in, how high the ceiling was, how far our table was from the walls, how many other dining parties we were sharing the restaurant with and where they were located.
We even stroked the tablecloth, endeavouring to place the material it was made from and visualising the colour or colours we imagined it to be.
We may have lost the gift of sight for that brief hour or two, but it definitely forced us to pay more attention to all our remaining senses, and to become increasingly aware of our surroundings.
The fact that we’d all formed pictures in our minds of what the room looked like and the appearance of the food on our plates made me consider how cool it would have been if we were sent photographs of the dishes we ate along with descriptions of them, and also a photograph of the room in which we dined.
But I guess knowing this would ruin the mystery, and therefore the appeal of dining at a dark restaurant in the first place.
- You can find Poznan’s Dark Restaurant on ul. Garbary 48, just on the edge of the city’s Old Town.
- Opening hours are 16:00 – 21:30 Monday to Saturday and 16:00 – 20:00 on Sunday
- The standard menu is priced at 80 PLN (£80 / $20.29) and the Mood and Bizarre menu will cost you 120 PLN (£24.81 / $30.44). You get three courses plus an appetiser, but drinks are not included. For Poland it’s not cheap, but considering the quality of the food and the uniqueness of the experience, in my opinion it’s totally worth the splurge.
Have you dined at a dark restaurant before? Does it sound like an experience you’d be game to try?
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