I’ve covered a lot of travels lately, so today I want to share a different kind of bucket list experience with you: Dining in absolute darkness!
Now bear with me, photos aren’t exactly something you’ll get out of an experience like this. So I will try to explain as detailed and colourful as possible what this all entails and why this cool experience ought to be on your bucket list.
Let’s get started.
Dining In Absolute Darkness Restaurants
As my dad and younger brother, who both live in Norway, were on a brief visit to Hong Kong around Christmas time, I wanted to bring them to some unique adventures and I generally love to involve them in my bucket list endeavours. Eating in the dark was definitely one of those.
Supposedly the “dining in absolute darkness restaurant concept” originated in Switzerland back in 1999, where a blind clergyman named Jorge Spielman wished to convey the experience of blindness to sighted customers. The idea came to him after reports of greater enjoyment of meals by guests being blindfolded due to heightened senses of taste and smell.
Today, the concept has been spread worldwide and include larger chains such as Dans le Noir (who has restaurants in London, Paris, Barcelona and Madrid ++), and you may find it in Malaysia, in Singapore and many, many more places.
We were heading to Alchemy in Hong Kong.
As you enter the lounge you receive a short brief on what you’re about to experience:
- You’ll be served in pitch-black darkness, there’s absolutely no light, and this intimate setting has only 24 seats.
- You’ll receive a three-course meal and you will have no idea what food you’ll be eating — you’ll only be told after the whole experience (so they’ll also ask whether you have any allergies).
- Your waiter is blind/visually impaired
- You’ll be eating in a normal manner with forks, knives etc. (though, you’ll quickly realise that that’s incredibly hard — close to impossible. More about that further below)
Such a Colourful and Funny Experience in Such a Dark Place
We then went down the basement to a room full of lockers to lock away our mobile phones and enter the restaurant.
“Put your left hand on my shoulder, and then we’ll slowly walk to your table”, Michael, the visually impaired server said. The four of us shuffled along, brushing past heavy curtains before being deposited at the dining table, where we would eat and drink three utterly secret and unseen courses.
Dining in the dark really changes everything: smell is heightened, manners go out the window — using your hands to feel around the plate become the norm — and personally I felt a constant need to steal and replace my girlfriend’s glass and cutlery. It was hilarious to hear her hands grasping around the table for it, and her cute attempt to ask if anyone had “seen” it.
However, one would think that other senses such as taste also would grow stronger. That was not the case at all, at least for me personally. Instead, when tasting some mystery food it would not taste that much at first. Then you would get a tiny hint of flavour, think “coriander” and suddenly it would taste undeniably of coriander. Even more interestingly was when I would think it was, let’s say chicken, and my brother would say that “no, this is duck” and suddenly the taste switched from chicken to duck. It was certainly a weird lesson in the roles played by our sight and expectations when we are eating. Once you’re without sight and have no pre-conceived ideas about the food its taste becomes bizarrely difficult to pin down.
And it turned out that we basically failed to identify most of the dishes whatsoever! What I had declared to be chicken during our dining was in fact pork! How is it possible to get so wrong??
When we thought most of the fun was over and we just waited to be guided out, I could not get a hold of my dad. Initially, that got me really worried as he is not the type who doesn’t respond or stay silent just to fool around with me. After several unsuccessful attempts to reach him, I literally screamed: “Dad, where are you?” Then, out of a sudden, this exhausted squeaky voice replied back to me: “I’m… under the table”. “Haha, why the **** are you under the table?”, I asked. “I was just looking for my fork”. Haha!?
You can imagine I’ve bullied him with that story for ages afterwards!
What I didn’t tell you earlier is that the kitchen has access to night-vision cameras so that the management can see when the guests are ready for their next course. Just imagine if they sold those tapes afterwards?! Seeing my dad fumble around at the floor, seeing myself covered in food and see my girlfriends hopelessness as she couldn’t find anything at the table — I would definitely have bought a tape of that!
Alchemy | TripAdvisor
Dark Dining | Wikipedia
The Greatest Part About This Restaurant
What really moved me about this experience besides being fun, is that it really gets you thinking. Many people out there in the world are blind, and this is how eating is for them every day of the week. They can’t see the food and thus instinctively know how it will taste or whether the food “looks” good, and they can’t easily use a fork and knife in the way we are so used to (and definitely take for granted).
Moreover, this fabulous restaurant not only shows you that, but by employing blind people they also empower them. It means they have an opportunity for work that they excel at; it means they can really show that they are both useful and talented despite their handicap; it means that instead of us feeling sorry for them we should celebrate them and their achievements. Being blind doesn’t make you any less of a human or less capable. It means you’re different, perhaps — but we are all different.
Last but not least, the restaurant gives a certain percentage of its income to the Hong Kong Society of the Blind. How great is that?!
So by visiting you:
- enable blind and visually impaired to have a safe and sound job possibilities;
- give money to charities and organisations related to blindness;
- get to experience something completely unique.
As a result of this whole dining in absolute darkness experience I also consequently added a new entry to my bucket list: “to be blind for a day”. I really want to explore further into being blind and increase my understanding around it all.
Mention your allergies. As you have no clue what you’re about to eat, you gotta make it clear what you’re allergic to.
Price. 400-800 HKD
Try it. No excuses. Bring some friends or family members and take them on this memorable food experience.
Messy. Don’t wear your new fancy white dress or shirt for this occasion. There’s definitely a chance that you’ll spill some food or drinks.
Wash your hands. I bet that 99% of the guests end up using their hands to eat at some point.
Blind date? Would this be the ultimate place for a literal “blind date”? It actually seems that some do use these restaurants for literal “blind dates”. That’s kinda cool! Maybe you can give it a go. No need to worry about the makeup or wearing a fancy dress?