Peter Dean took on a blind wine tasting challenge by tasting five 2005 vintage wines in the complete dark – at a total blackout restaurant called Dans Le Noir? The dark allows our senses to run wild but also gives a fleeting glimpse into what restaurant life might be like without sight…like, how difficult is cutlery when you cannot see?
Blind tasting is all about keeping focused on what is in the glass – not worrying about what you might think is in the glass… like would our hosts really serve La Chapelle 2005 to 60 guests?
“I cannot see a fucking thing” I mutter as I lead an ‘elephant train’ of diners out of the pitch black dining room of London’s Dans le Noir? into the brightly lit bar where we had been drinking a few hours earlier. “Neither can I” says my waitress leading me, who I can see now is clearly blind.
It’s a mildly chastening end to an illuminating evening set up to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Dans le Noir? a restaurant where for the entire evening diners cannot see a thing. It is disorientating, at first unsettling, immersive, unique and 100% fascinating.
From a wine perspective it is the ultimate blind tasting. The five 2005 wines picked by oenologist Jérôme Barret could have been any colour, any region… and anywhere. It was hard enough trying to locate where the five glasses were on the table let alone try and identify them.
Cliché perhaps but without sight, the aromas of the wines were accentuated.
Not only did wine #1 clearly contain plump, ripe Grenache but, after the glass was drained, the nose was incredible – it literally went on and on. I kept returning to it, perhaps in the vain hope that someone had refilled it.
The white pepper and bacon notes of wine #4 clearly put it in the Northern Rhone and I did have it as a Hermitage although what I didn’t guess was that our host would have been so generous as to serve La Chapelle to 60 guests.
To be fair on myself I did identify four of the five regions (more or less) and pulled out of the fifth on account of trying to second-guess Jérôme’s selection “He wouldn’t pick two Riojas to show the ’05 vintage, would he?” Wrong!
What was also quite nice was … no spittoon! Now that really would have put the cat amongst the pigeons.
From a dining experience it was more challenging not knowing what you were eating, and not entirely pleasant it has to be said. The MW sitting next to me thought the fish was pork. And boy! cutlery sure is hard when you cannot see and the plate is such a long way from your face. With no one else being able to see I did sort of use my plate like a trough and, yes, I did have to wash food from my face before going to bed.
Why did no one on the Tube tell me?
There is a Blitz-like cameraderie to the evening where you do really hang on the words of fellow diners, which was wonderfully liberating in so many ways. It’s kind of cool getting to know someone without seeing what they look like. And it was nice to yawn impolitely and switch off for a couple of minutes without anyone noticing. You might also be caught out – in a nice way. One diner apparently discovered on leaving the restaurant that they had been talking to Tim Burton all evening.
You’ll never seen an Instagramed ‘foodporn’ shot from this restaurant, particularly as phones and watches are taken from you on entering, and I suspect the saucier doesn’t put quite as much into their visual presentation (who knows?). But then that’s no real hardship is it. This is about taking one sense away so that the others can run riot.
What looked to me like a dining gimmick 10 years ago when it was set up by Edouard De Broglie is clearly no such thing. There is a philosophy behind Dans le Noir? that has seen the brand open up first in Paris, Barcelona, New York, Saint-Petersburg, Nairobi and here in London. They have also launched Dans le Noir? ‘Blind Tasting’ awards.
Just one thing – I wish they’d get rid of the question mark from the restaurant name. It’s rhetorical.
In the dark? Of course it is… you have no choice.
What we tasted:
Château Cabezac, Minervois; Château Bellegrave, Pomerol; Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial, Rioja; La Chapelle de L’Hermitage; Altos de Corral single estate, Rioja.
What we learned:
If you run an establishment try it ‘blind’. You’ll soon find out what the pitfalls are for a sight-challenged customer. And where the steps are.
The 2005s are wonderful. All showing well particularly the Minervois, Ygay and Jaboulet.
What a great review Peter. An insight to something you can’t see is hard to put down in words. A neighbour of mine went to this restaurant recently with her husband and totally freaked out. Her arms touched the hairy arm of a stranger and that was that – she couldn’t get spiders out of her mind all night! She too had a modicum of food remaining on the journey home. I think I’ll give it a try – sounds like an interesting ‘test’ for the expectant palate.