Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants

Article excerpt

I try to make a booking at Dans Le Noir? , the new London restaurant where diners eat in total darkness and are served by blind and visually impaired staff, although I still don't think I've quite worked out what the point is exactly. Anyway, I call and speak to a very nice-sounding Frenchman who asks if he might call me back. 'Iz just that I cannot find ze bookings book just now.' When he doesn't return the call, I email via the restaurant's website. No reply. I am beginning to think that this is why blind people, on the whole, don't make especially good restauranteurs.

However, this doesn't mean I have anything against blind people. God, no.

On the contrary, one of my very favourite Radio 4 programmes is In Touch, which I often find both interesting and moving.

Indeed, I often wish I couldn't see nearly as well, so that I could feel just that bit more part of the gang. Although, that said, who is to say I wouldn't want a dog that can plump the sofa cushions and make tea and use the cashpoint anyway? Sometimes blind people just can't see which side of their bread is buttered. They are quite like old people, who are always moaning, moaning, moaning, even though they get stairlifts and mobility scooters and half price at the hairdressers on Wednesday afternoons. Do they ever stop to think that I might like a stairlift, a mobility scooter or half price at the hairdressers on Wednesday afternoons? Well, I would. Old people can't see which side their bread is buttered either, and they don't even have an excuse. On the other hand, I suppose it is perfectly possible that they put it down somewhere and now can't remember where.

Now, where were we? Ah, yes. Eventually, contact with the restaurant is made, and so it's off to Clerkenwell for the express lunch (two courses, £25). The bar area at the front of the restaurant is lit, beige and perfectly pleasant, although lined by a row of lockers - you have to leave all your stuff in one before you can go into the dark - which gives it the slight air of a municipal swimming-pool. I meet my mother and her friends Ruth and Pia, who are as perplexed by this whole thing as I am. What exactly is the point? A notice on the wall says that there is already a successful branch in Paris which, having thus far served 60,000 diners, makes it 'the largest operation raising awareness about disability'. So it's about disability. But then Edouard de Broglie, who created the concept, is quoted in the menu as saying it's all about how surprisingly different food tastes when the visual element is removed. So is it about experiencing food in a different way? I feel the drive behind the idea might be a little blurred. At no point, by the way, does anyone mention the word 'gimmick', possibly because it would be hurtful unless, of course, you happen to be in a deaf restaurant, in which case I'm guessing you can say pretty much what you like.

When it is time for our 'sitting' we are introduced to our waiter, Paul. Paul went totally blind four years ago (glaucoma), misses playing football and has a beautiful golden Labrador, Conrad, waiting for him behind the bar (who is to say I wouldn't like a beautiful golden Labrador called Conrad waiting for me behind the bar? I would).

We are led into the restaurant as if we are doing the conga, with a hand on each other's shoulders. …

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