March 2016 marks the 10th Anniversary of renowned London restaurant, Dans le Noir?, a venue celebrated for pushing the boundaries of modern dining. Throughout its ten overwhelmingly successful years, the team behind Dans le Noir? has consistently prioritised its primary focus – to raise awareness of sight loss by hiring blind guides to serve guests.
The restaurant, whose name translates to ‘In the Dark?’, is the only eatery in the UK which allows guests to truly challenge their perception of taste by entirely removing their sense of sight. The unique venue welcomes guests into complete darkness and offers a liberating atmosphere unlike any other, completely absent of vanity and pretention.
A UNIQUE SOCIAL AND SENSORY EXPERIENCE
Experience exaggerated flavours and heightened conversation as sensory boundaries are broken. Handover visual dependence to one of the restaurant’s six disabled guides and enter into complete darkness, discovering an electric atmosphere unlike anywhere else. After placing all possessions in a locker in the lit bar, place one hand on your guide’s shoulder as the staff calmly lead you to a communal table in the ‘dark room’.
The restaurant’s innovative concept offers three distinct benefits:
• Sensory experience. Offering arguably the most interesting food experience in London with their Surprise Menus, guests are able to focus purely on how the dishes taste with their visual judgement completely removed.
• Social experience. In the dark room, everybody is somebody. Diners are seated on large communal tables with others, allowing uninhibited conversation free from judgement or preconceptions.
• Role reversal. Unlike any other waiting service, diners are invited to hand over dependence to their guides and invest completely in their abilities. The restaurant employs a total of ten blind or visually impaired guides.
MICHELIN STAR CONSULTANT
The menu has evolved over the past 10 years and in November 2015, a Michelin star chef, Julien Machet, was hired to consult and help John Houel, the London Head Chef, create the four eclectic menus. Diners are asked to choose from menus described only as Meat, Fish, Vegetarian or Surprise. Plates are adorned with the finest quality ingredients and the menu changes bi-monthly with all allergies being catered for. Prices start from £46 for two courses; and rise to £89 for a five-course tasting menu with four glasses of surprise wine and a glass of Champagne. Surprise cocktails, enjoyed as a “warm up” before entering into the dark, are changed on a weekly basis.
DANS LE NOIR? REFURBISHMENT
Dans le Noir? has been newly refurbished. No area has been left untouched as the restaurant, bar, welcome area, exterior and kitchens have all been redesigned. Located on the ground floor, the ‘dark room’ is the main ground floor dining area and can accommodate approximately 60 guests, while the lit bar is perfect for a pre-dinner cocktail. The venue also houses the Gallery Bar on the first floor. Situated adjacent to a dark room seating 16 diners, the first floor is the ideal private party venue, corporate event space or private dining area. All the arts works and objet’d’art in the Gallery Bar are for sale with the profits (the difference between the buying and selling price) going to Dans le Noir? A Light for Africa Campaign.
Dans le Noir? is open daily for dinner from 6.30pm until 9.15pm, and lunch is available at the weekend from Midday to 2.30pm. Corporate and group books can be arranged for Monday to Friday lunchtime. The specialist team is on-hand to organise one off events and additional services.
With the distinction between the blind and sighted waiters being blurred, it’s no wonder the restaurant’s unique concept has been a resounding success. After initially launching in Paris, London, Barcelona, St Petersburg, temporary restaurants also opened in New York, Bangkok, Nairobi, Warsaw, Geneva, and Riyadh. The Old Course in St Andrews will also commence special nights on 26 March 2016.
DISABILITY AND PERFORMANCE
Mind-blowing Gov.uk statistics estimate that 16% of working age adults are disabled. In 2012, only 46.3% of disabled people were in employment compared to 76.4% of non-disabled people, making it a significant social issue. Additionally, disabled people are significantly more likely to experience unfair treatment in work.
Edouard de Broglie, who founded Dans le Noir? in Paris in 2004, says “50% of our staff have a high disability, yet we still operate an efficient and profitable company. We have an incredibly low staff turnover which shows the dedication of our long standing team. We want to show big companies that those with disabilities shouldn’t be limited to performing only menial jobs. Our guides are incredibly skilled and challenge the perception that blind or visually impaired can serve in a restaurant. Who could have said that 10 years ago?”.
The team behind the restaurant takes its ethical responsibility incredibly seriously with up to 10% of profits going to charitable programmes. The restaurant has created its own programme Dans le Noir à light for Africa (www.alightforafrica.danslenoir.com) where all money raised goes towards installing solar panels and providing electricity to schools across Africa. The aim is to light over 100 schools by the end of 2017 with the help of other companies joining the programme. Dans le Noir? also helps several British Foundations including the Frederick’s Foundation (www.fredericksfoundation.org), plus helps over 20 foundations every year to fundraise by donating vouchers for prizes.
To signal its success, Dans le Noir? can boast of 100% covers at every service since its opening, and Richard Curtis’ 2013 film ‘About Time’ featured the restaurant. Dans le Noir? frequently hosts high profile personalities and the venue is favoured by celebrity clientele for its anonymous approach to dining. Popular boy band Lawson used the restaurant’s famous dark room to debut their single ‘Standing in the dark’.
Dans le Noir? 30-31 Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU. Reservations on 020 7253 1100