By Vickie Sam Paget
“Are you free tonight?”
“Well grab your handbag darling; we’re going out.”
When my pal Wil told me that we were going out to grab a bite, I envisioned a nice white tablecloth, maybe some pasta and a couple of glasses of vino. I should have known better...
Because in order for me to explain to you what our meal at Vancouver eatery Dark Table was really like, I have to count on my senses of hearing, taste, smell and touch. I can’t rely on my sense of sight. Which, if I’m honest, is pretty unusual for this writer, because when I usually review a restaurant, I like to wax lyrical about the decor, the glistening silverware or the exquisitely-presented amuse bouche.
Well, not this time, because Dark Table provides its clientele with a dine-in-the-dark experience. And when I say ‘dark’, I mean really, really, really dark. There isn’t a single glimmer of light in the place.
Already a hit in London, Paris and New York, ‘blind dining’ takes you on a culinary journey through uncharted territory, where the familiar – your food, your drink and your friends – take on a new air of enchantment. Because when a sighted person is suddenly without the ability to see what they’re eating or the person they’re dining with, the world becomes a magical and mysterious place. Trust me; it’s thrilling. And as your other senses kick into full throttle, it makes you feel wonderfully alive.
The blind dining concept originated in Switzerland in the home of a blind man, Jorge Spielmann, who blindfolded his guests in an attempt to show them what eating is like for a blind person.
Spielmann’s guests claimed that their senses of taste, smell, hearing and touch were amplified to the extent that the social act of eating took on a whole new meaning. Spielmann’s dinners evolved into a restaurant concept that included a dark dining room and blind servers – a tradition that Dark Table emulates.
With an unemployment rate of 70 per cent, the blind face obvious challenges in a society that is preoccupied with visual communication, but in a dark dining environment, the tables are turned and the non-sighted servers guide the sighted.
Upon arrival at the restaurant, we made our main course menu choices on the eatery’s lighted patio. The starter and dessert were to remain a delicious mystery. We were then led to our table in the dark dining room by our server. Trust truly is at the top of the menu in this restaurant, and we bonded very quickly with our server. Communication is tactile and a familiar, comfortable intimacy blossoms quickly.
Once seated, we had the opportunity to adjust to the darkness, which happened surprisingly quickly. Our surprise starter was a delicious salad that set the senses on fire with mysterious fruity undertones. Diving in with our fingers was a sweetly gratifying. You can, if you want, use cutlery... But it seemed like a bit of a fool’s mission to me. Much better just to dive in and get to grips with what you can’t see. It was the same with my sumptuous main course steak (can there be anything more satisfyingly cavewoman-esque than licking black pepper sauce off your fingertips in public?) and the soft, squidgy goodness of our surprise pumpkin pie dessert.
My sense of taste was doing cartwheels, my sense of hearing was doing hurdles, my sense of smell was tap-dancing and my sense of touch was doing the tango. And my sense of sight? It was taking a nap and I was happy not to disturb it. I wasn’t missing it one bit. In fact, my eyelids had taken it upon themselves to ease into a meditative closed position, which was relaxing beyond belief.
And when we came out of the restaurant and regained our vision, it was kind of sad. All of the mystery of the sensual world dissolved like dust into the cool night air. The spell was broken. But – wow – what an experience.
The dark side truly isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s pretty amazing. Or maybe there isn’t a dark side at all. As William Shakespeare put it: “There is no darkness but ignorance.”