Opinion

This week: I got blind, but not in the way you might think.

This week I got blind when I went to Noir, a restaurant where no-one can see. Yep, dining in the dark.

Noir is the highest-rated restaurant in Saigon on TripAdvisor, and has been for over 18 months, where guests go there to eat in the pitch dark, and they don’t even know what they are going to be eating or if it will end up in their lap.

There are a few of these restaurants around the world – the concept started in Zurich, Switzerland by a blind man in 1999.

duck-breast-sous-vide-water-chestnut-taro-thai-curry-sauce-thai-basil

Duck Breast Water Chestnut with taro thai curry sauce and thai basil.

I ate at the one in Saigon, which was an enlightening experience. They call it a journey of the senses – the idea being that when you take away your sight, your other senses have to kick in and subsequently heighten, and for me, it certainly did.

I invited six of my friends individually to join me at dinner, and all declined citing (excuse the pun) all manner of excuses from claustrophobia to nausea to just plain “not my thing.” People are afraid of being out of control – I was too, but that’s part of the fun, pushing your own boundaries.

When you walk into Noir, almost everyone is blind, I mean legally blind.  There are only a few people who can see and they are the ones who initially give you a seat and some drinks to explain the concept, but after that, the lights go out.

Other guests in the welcoming area talk to each other – you are all united by this seemingly fearful experience ahead of you, and you are all reaching for each other for support.

You are then introduced to your blind waiter, then led up some stairs and into a room that is darker than dark. This isn’t like your bedroom at night where you can see some cracks of light – there is nothing. For me, it was like meditation, only there was no respite for over an hour – I couldn’t open my eyes to see.

The staff are beautifully soft and gentle and very patient as they explain the unusual and somewhat surprising concept.noir

Your blind waiter helps you find your cutlery, your wine and water glasses, and deliver your food. At some stage in the night, I realised this was his reality every single day. Life in the dark.

The food is where the ‘blind’ concept really takes off, as each course has four different taste sensations delivered on a board in a clock-wise direction – and you have no idea what you are eating, other than it is a soup, salad or meat dish etc.

The real surprise comes after each course when your waiter returns to ask you what you think you just ate, and in at least 50% of the dishes, I was completely wrong – our sight judges around 70% of the taste of food for us before we have even tried it.

After a gorgeous three course meal, I was led out to the reception area where my journey had begun, and shown imagery of all of the dishes I had eaten which were so different to what I had imagined in my mind without the help of my eyes.

This is an extraordinary culinary adventure, but it is so much more than that. Like meditation, it is an opportunity to go within and spend some time alone, experiencing the multiple wonders of what it truly is to be human with all of the senses, feelings and thoughts within, and to be thankful for the things we take for granted – especially our sight.

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