Good food and a dining room surrounded in darkness make this an affair to remember.
This unorthodox restaurant originated in Paris and now has locations in London, Barcelona, St Petersburg and New York. As the name ('in the dark') suggests, the venue is literally pitch black. The concept here is to rely on other senses such as taste, touch and smell, rather than sight. The experience is made even more poignant by the fact that all the waiters are either blind or otherwise visually impaired. The venue itself is tucked away on a quiet Clerkenwell street, and is fairly nondescript with its pleasant light blue façade and large windows.
Upon arrival diners are asked to leave behind belongings - including any items emitting light - in lockers situated in the lit bar area. The bar only has a couple of tables but is spacious enough for couples and small groups of twenty and thirty somethings to enjoy a drink before being taken into the unknown. Hands on shoulders, waiters lead diners into the restaurant before positioning them at the table. Usually your eyes get used to the dark after a while, but not so here: it's just as dark right before you exit, to blink manically at the light. It might get a little bit of getting used to, but that's half the fun, and everybody's in the same boat.
Not only is the venue blacker than Lord Voldemort’s soul, but you are also kept in the dark as far as the menu goes. You choose one of four menus beforehand (vegetarian, meat, fish or surprise), and inform them of any allergies you might have. Two courses cost £42 and three £51, and the menus change every two or three months.
The fish menu's starter of tuna steak is lovely and meaty, and comes served with crunchy sugar snap peas. The main is like a smorgasbord from the sea with swordfish steak marinated in a tangy citrus and ginger marinade; a melt-in-the mouth wild salmon steak drizzled in an interesting blood orange hollandaise with a hint of sharpness; and red mullet and scallops on a light and fluffy pea and truffle cream.
The 'surprise' menu has the most exotic fare, with a main consisting of a hearty springbok steak (easily mistaken for beef) accompanied by mushrooms and a red wine sauce, as well as some very juicy pieces of crocodile on a bed of coconut rice. Also included is some fatty (but succulent) ox cheeks, sweetbreads, black beans and carrots.
The meat menu is a little more traditional, though it too has its moments (cold wild pigeon and black pudding to start, for one) with an excellent lamb tagine; guinea fowl with mushrooms; and duck breast with spinach and potato cake for main.
The dessert is easily recognisable as white chocolate cheesecake with some delicious licorice macaroons; the bitterness perfectly accompanying the sweetness of the cake. The food is very good, and although you might not be able to judge the presentation, the combinations of flavour and texture suggest some impressive skills are at work in that kitchen.
There's a long list of house created cocktails (£11-£13) and mocktails. The champagne cocktail is delicious, as is a coconut-based surprise cocktail (£9) and a surprise mocktail (£7) that tastes heavily of Amaretto. Wines are served as a surprise, dependent on what food is ordered. A bottle of wine costs £26, or £49 for a bottle of slightly posher stuff, though both are also available by the glass.
The Last Word
The food is certainly tasty and the experience unique to London, but more than anything this is a social experience and thus great for a big group - or even a date. It's definitely an icebreaker, offering up plenty of opportunities for fun, including that much-loved game ‘guess the animal I’m eating’, which is always a laugh.