This past weekend saw me return to the lovely city of Amsterdam. Known for many things from arts and culture it also has shall we say colourful social life. Whenever I visit a city personally I’m drawn to the architecture of the buildings, the colours and the similarities and differences that exist between home and the location. Amsterdam is no different and I very much enjoyed the trip. It had a few highlights including a fantastic fireworks display on New Years Eve but one particular thing we did while there was dine in the dark. It was definitely an experience to remember.
I had heard of this concept before. The idea is it is like any other restaurant that you go to except for one major difference. You dine completely in the dark. As we arrived we all knew in theory what we would be doing but in the moments before we went into the dining room there was certainly an air of unease of what this would be like. A member of staff sat us in a waiting area and explained that shortly our table would be ready so we waited nervously. We were given a locker for our bags and phones and left our coats in a cloak room by the entrance. Soon after a member of the waiting staff (who are all visually impaired) instructed us to follow him, imagine a conga line through a curtain into complete darkness and I mean complete darkness. I don’t think any of us were quite prepared for just how dark it would be. I was second in the line to be seated and as I was guided by the waiter I was a bit overwhelmed. Eventually all six of us were seated and tried to get our bearings. Other diners were chatting but again you could not see your hand in front of you let alone the other guests.
At first I was quite panicked and unsettled. If I’m ever in a situation where I can’t see because of darkness I tend to close my eyes. I feel more comfortable that way but having your eyes wide open and having no idea what is in front, behind, next to or across from you is quite daunting and it certainly took some adjusting to. The waiter had asked us if we had any allergies or are vegetarian etc. as the second difference with this restaurant is that you have no choice on the menu. You only find out afterwards what you have eaten. There were five courses in total including an appetiser, a starter, a main course, and two desserts, one small and one large. As your sight is now just a sea of black you have to rely on your other senses to get by so touching the table to find your cutlery and glasses and also pouring the jug of water. Your smell and taste to figure out what you are eating and sound to gauge who at the table was speaking. Even though I couldn’t see any of the others at our table it was interesting that once you did figure out where everyone was sitting if they spoke you do turn towards them and nod along as if you can see them.
The food itself was delicious although eighty percent of the time I didn’t know exactly what I was eating and cutting the meat was definitely a tricky challenge. As we finished each course we tried to identify the different flavours and textures on the plate and while we did get some ingredients correct we were far off from guessing the whole menu.
The entire meal lasted about two hours so it’s a significant amount of time from start to finish. When the meal ended the waiter again guided us out of the room and instructed us to look down at the floor for a few moments when we returned to the lit room. It was a strange sensation coming back out and it did take a minute or two to readjust and get my balance. I certainly left with a renewed appreciation for my eyesight and it certainly was an eye opening experience (no pun intended). For me personally it gave a stark reality check into what it must feel like to be visually impaired. I would recommend people to try it if the opportunity presents itself. At the moment I don’t think there is a restaurant in Ireland that does it but there are many internationally so if abroad and you come across it give it a try. You’ll appreciate your senses a lot more afterwards!