“Food for Thought”
I‘ll never think of that expression the same way again after eating at Dining in the Dark. Last weekend, I completely changed my perspective on the meaning of dining and what I really enjoy most about sitting down to a meal, whether simple or extravagant, What I’ve come to discover is the stunning truth about how much people actually eat food with their eyes, not their mouths.
Particularly in the case of food, we salivate and gain a sense of satisfaction from what we see presented to us on our plates. Half the fun is ogling at the masterpiece that is food: the oozing cheddar of a juicy cheeseburger, the golden tops of pan seared scallops, the shiny sugary glaze of raspberries perched atop a fruit tartlet…Plain and simple, we’re transported to a culinary feast first by the vibrant, appetizing features of our meal, and then by our tastebuds. Another essential part of the dining experience are the extra frills we don’t always think of. Most weekend restaurant outings involve getting glammed up and heading to a swanky locale, one with a buzzing atmosphere, smartly dressed patrons and decor unique to that place. Divine colors on a plate, laughing faces, people watching, gazing into your partner’s eyes – well, none of this is possible or visible at Dining in the Dark and it’s an amazing thing. In this constantly connected world, in particular the cell-phone obsessed culture in Asia, people are more glued to their phones than their dates at dinner. I think a place with zero distractions and focusing on the food and conversation is the best possible trend to come along.
Welcome to this special concept restaurant, where the lack of visual distractions makes for an exceptional and eye-opening (I had to) dining experience.
In travel writing, you’re taught to employ all five senses to truly learn about a place and experience it fully, to relate it to others in every dimension possible. But what about stripping away one sense for an evening? The idea of purposefully eating in the dark started with a blind clergyman in Zurich whose guests showed solidarity by blindfolding themselves while sharing the meal. The first concept restaurant of its kind in Malaysia, Dining in the Dark offers a completely immersive experience into what being blind might feel like, eating a four course meal in complete darkness, allowing your senses to come alive and surrendering your sight for a solid two hours. Replace ambiance for experience and you’ve got the idea. Changed every month, the set mystery menu offers sampler type dishes as a challenge to decipher what tastes are in front of you. This was the biggest appeal for me as nothing gets my foodie pride going more than knowing my ingredients. From the outside, Dining in the Dark appears to be just like any other cool, dim-lit venue on the main party street of Changkat. As we climbed up the stairs, I felt a bit jittery and nervous, and since I’m claustrophobic, thoughts like, “what if we need to quickly exit the room?” crossed my mind. Well, I came to discover that it’s completely normal to feel a bit nervous beforehand, just because it’s something so out of the ordinary! But in a situation like this, the most important thing is to relax and above all, trust the server since they are such an integral part of what makes the dinner so seamless.
After waiting by the bar and playing a blind-folded ice-breaker to acclimate to the evening, our “darkness expert”, Darius (who’s visually impaired), calmly met us at the door of the dining room and in we went into the pitch black room. He led us to our table in a series of twists and turns, and with my hand on Laurens’ shoulder and his hand on Darius’, we proceeded slowly, with baby steps, afraid to hit anyone enjoying their food. How cooly surreal to enter a room, hearing people eating and talking but not knowing exactly where they are. Although they’re there, it feels at times as if you’re the only ones eating. Once seated, I blinked and strained to find some light, anywhere, but to no avail. This isn’t the kind of darkness where your-eyes adjust after five minutes, but the complete absence of light, rendering your visual sense useless. I relaxed, felt around and giggled a bit and tried to have a normal conversation with the invigorating circumstance surrounding us. Fumbling for Laurens’ hand, we anticipated our four courses to arrive excitedly, never quite knowing when or from what direction Darius’ soothing voice would pop up and talk to us, guiding us through the course. Darius was a perfect server who explained patiently and with his acute hearing even noticed when I picked up the wrong napkin. As he placed our first sampler plate on the table, he recommended we start from the bottom left corner and work our way around counter-clockwise. Tracing the edge of the plate with my fingertips, I grazed what I knew was pasta salad and stopped. Do I try to use my fork or my God-given utensils instead? Who would notice and most of all, who would care? Reaching for my Tiger beer, I washed down my questions and used my hands to pick up the first appetizer bowl, and brought it to my mouth, secretly grinning at the infantile way of eating. Each course continued with feeling around, previewing the texture, smelling the aromas, but eventually I was brave enough to use my fork and (successfully) reach my mouth. We couldn’t figure out just how many tables were near us, but the rising and falling of laughter from big groups and clanking of wine glasses gave us the feeling we were one of many. The music played dimly in the background, maybe to minimize distraction, but funny enough, with no light, I was less inclined to talk as much as I normally do. With all my other senses heightened, talking seemed less important. But, back to the food. Thrilling, unusual, tantalizing – a symphony of flavors came through with each course. It was amazing how my sense of touch told me most of what I needed to know. My discerning fingertips grazed over foods I’ve always loved, and some I’m less fond of like fried calamari, so I steered clear. Even more amazing was how some flavors I taste every week stumped me as a complete conundrum. For example, the one dish I couldn’t figure out but guessed as shark or stingray turned out to be…chicken. Yes, chicken. It seemed my taste buds were massively tricked, but that’s the great revelation here at Dining in The Dark, that without sight, our taste takes on a whole new perspective. Alternatively, foods I never knew I had a keen sense for popped up automatically in my mind like pine nuts, crab, and vegetable ragout. I was delighted, confused and satiated all at once. All in all, we used our taste buds (and fingers) to navigate each plate and by the end, it was a satisfying, unique and delicious meal.
After almost two and half hours of adjusting to and enjoying the darkness and tasting experience, it was time to go back out into the light. With the help of Darius, stepping out of the dining room and into the bar proved hard for our eyes, disorienting us and taking several minutes to adjust. I still wonder how the servers don’t run into each other with so many plates of food and patrons coming and going. Either way, the dining room runs as smooth as any other. Afterwards, the hostess presented the menu of the food served that night, and unraveling the visual aspect of our meal really brought everything together nicely. On a high from the exhilarating time in the room, we left with more insight and appreciation for our sight and a greater understanding for another way of life and living. It took some stepping outside of my comfort zone, but I’m so glad I did. This is a must-try-experience for a unique dinner date or group outing in the capital city here in Malaysia.
Have you tried this unique dinner experience? What did you think? Would you eat in complete darkness?
See if you could take the culinary challenge in Malaysia:
50 Changkat Bukit Bintang, Bukit Bintang,
50200 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah
Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur