[Note: This is NOT a sponsored review]
When I lived in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, I used to walk to work everyday, and I would pass by this restaurant called “Dining in the Dark“. It intrigued me to no end. What is Dining in the Dark restaurant? Do the customers really eat in the dark? But why would anyone want to do that?
I’m not one to wait around for someone to take me on adventures. If I wanted to do something, I’d go and do it, preferably on my own. However, I figured this particular experience would be best shared with someone. So I waited. For a long time. Until earlier this year when I finally managed to convince someone to come with me.
What is Dining in the Dark?
The concept of dining in a fully darkened restaurant was first invented in Paris in 1997, and continued to gain popularity since then. In 2003, a French entrepreneur collaborated with a blind foundation to start the first international chain of restaurants in the dark.
The idea is that the removal of vision enhances your other senses, thus increasing your gastronomic pleasure. It also aims to convey the experience of blindness to sighted people.
In Kuala Lumpur, the Dining in the Dark (DID) restaurant is located on the happening street of Changkat Bukit Bintang, about 30 minutes’ walk from the Petronas Twin Towers. Some of the other countries where you can try this blackout dining are Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Israel, the USA, Bulgaria, Switzerland, and Germany.
How Much is It?
Okay, let me say it upfront — it’s not cheap. The regular menu costs RM130++ per person (not inclusive of drinks). If you’d like to have the wine-pairing option, it is RM189++ per person. I booked using Tableapp and only had to pay RM120 nett. Still not my usual price range, but hey, it’s fine dining. And you’re not only paying for the food, but also the experience. I believe other fine-dining restaurants would charge about the same price too (this I wouldn’t know for sure though, as the only kind of dinner my wallet usually allows is whatever I can scavenge in the fridge).
The menu at Dining in the Dark is a surprise and is changed every three months. It is not revealed to you until after you have finished eating. So, you go to the restaurant and fork out hundreds of dollars for a meal, and put it into your mouth without even knowing what it is. How bizarre is that? I have never put that much trust in anyone. But at least, that solved the problem of not knowing what to order.
If you’re an extremely picky eater, this might be a problem, as you are not allowed to make strange requests such as no beansprouts, and no coriander, and no this and no that, unless you really have food restrictions due to allergies or religious beliefs. Nobody’s going to believe you if you tell them you’re allergic to onions (I tried that when I was 5).
Anyhow, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options are available, provided that you inform them in advance. The only thing you can be certain of is that they don’t serve pork, beef, or anything with bones or potential choking hazard.
The Pre-Dinner Game
As soon as we arrived, we were asked to take our seats at the lounge. The bartender came to us to briefly explain what Dining in the Dark was all about. Basically, all of the servers employed there are visually impaired. This experience would be a glimpse into what it is like to live in their world. Therefore, the dining room would be in complete darkness.
To prepare us for the dinner, we first had to warm up our senses. The bartender served us with two glasses of mocktails. They were a blend of three different kinds of fruits, and we had to guess what each of those three fruits were. It was much harder than I thought. I didn’t guess a single item correctly. My partner got one right.
For the next game, we were given a bowl containing raw rice. Hidden in the rice were four paper clips. We had to find them while being blindfolded. Surprisingly, this was a test I excelled at, while my partner struggled to find even one. Here’s a tip: Go slowly and use both hands. The faster you go, the easier it is for the paper clips to escape your grasp.
After that, it was time for dinner. We had to leave our phones, watches, any light-emitting devices, and any shiny or metallic objects in a locker before entering the dining area.
So, is It Totally Dark?
As you can see in the picture above, we were standing in front of a door just before putting our stuff in the locker. Behind that door, our waiter was waiting to be introduced to us. After that, he would be taking us through another door leading to the dining area, and beyond this second door, it was complete darkness.
I know some of you might be feeling a little skeptical. How dark can it really be? Can’t you just replicate it at home? Put some food on the table, turn off all the lights, and there you have it — dining-in-the-dark experience, without the hundred-dollar price tag.
I have to admit — in the beginning, I had the same thought too. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. The darkness was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
In a darkened room at home, your eyes would have adjusted to the darkness in a matter of seconds. You would then be able to make out the shapes of the furniture in your room. This was not the case at Dining in the Dark. For the whole of two hours I was there, I couldn’t see anything AT ALL except for a tiny red dot of light on the ceiling that must have been the smoke detector or something. My initial guess was a CCTV, but then it would have to be a pretty high-tech one to be able to capture anything with the total lack of light.
The Dining Experience
After entering the dining area, the waiter led us to our table and made sure we found our chairs. Then, he described the items on our table, and where each one was so we could find them easily. The most important thing was to remember to put everything back in its original position, especially the glasses so that we wouldn’t accidentally knock them over.
TIP: If you consider yourself a clumsy/messy eater, do yourself a favor and don’t wear white.
A little while later, our first course arrived. The waiters would make soft clapping sounds to alert the others of their locations so that they didn’t bump into each other. They would politely let us know if they were about to clear our plates or serve us something. It was amazing how they were able to do all that without any accident. In their world, our positions were reversed. We were the disabled, and they our guides.
As for us, I think we did pretty well. We even managed to clink our glasses in the dark. We didn’t spill anything. When we were done with each dish, we would use our fingers to check the plate and ensure that we had wiped everything clean. The food was really that good. And we also didn’t want to waste our precious dollars by unwittingly leaving something behind.
At some point during our dinner, the sound system played a Happy Birthday song, and we heard applause, followed by a waiter’s voice asking another diner where he was from. “Shanghai,” answered the man. And that was it. We didn’t hear anything else from his table before or after those two lines of conversation. When he spoke, his voice seemed to have come from only a few meters away. How was it possible that he and his dining partner(s) didn’t make any sound throughout their meal? If we could hear the clapping sounds of the waiters as they walked around the room, surely we would have heard something from the table next to us?
I wondered if it had been a gimmick to make us think there were other customers when in fact it had been just the two of us all along. But why would they do that? The dining experience was shrouded in so much mystery. Maybe the darkness had overstimulated my mind.
Once done with the last course, we alerted our waiter who then led us out of the room. We were greeted again by the bartender, and taken to a table outside, where we were given the menu of what we had just eaten. There had been a total of four appetizers, two soups, three mains, and five desserts, which sounds like a lot, but was actually portioned just right so we didn’t feel overstuffed. I’m proud to say that I guessed most of the ingredients correctly.
I think the food was great. But then again, like I said, I’m not a regular in the fine-dining scene, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. Those who are more exposed to the ‘finer things in life’ would be better judges.
But food aside, the overall experience was nothing short of amazing. I’m a very visual person. I like to enjoy the aesthetics of the food before I start eating. Also, on the rare occasions that I have to dress up for dinner, I would expect to see and to be seen. But I was surprised to find that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience even without the visual stimulation. It was definitely worth repeating.