I have always been one for the unusual. So, when I heard about a new, most unique restaurant in London, my curiosity was piqued. The twist on this place was that one ate in total darkness. I mean, total darkness. You were assigned a blind waiter and he was your “guide”.
We had previously planned to take one Gary’s school colleagues and his girlfriend to dinner. Consequently, I had one of my many brilliant ideas.
“Gary, lets surprise them and take them to this place!”
Gary agreed. For two weeks, this couple were held in suspense. I couldn’t wait to surprise them with this treat. Of course, Gary was very well acquainted with Sam, one of his colleagues at work and a transplanted Yank. I had never met his girlfriend, Lorraine, a young teacher at the school. She was a Brit, born and bred and I looked forward to getting acquainted with her over a nice dinner. Albeit, somewhat dark.
I had told my adult children what we had planned. They all related a recent episode of CSI in which a diner had been murdered in a restaurant such as this. This did not deter me. I reassured them with the fact that, according to the restaurant’s website, “infrared cameras are used and records kept to ensure visitors’ welfare and safety. Please be assured that we only watch the records in case of an incident or on customer request.” And since I had no intention of doing anything unforeseen, or even bawdy, that was good enough for me. Some bum just better try and murder me while I’m enjoying my dinner, or more specifically, trying to figure out exactly what my dinner was.
We arrive. The restaurant and lounge appear normal…so far. I can hardly wait for them to join us in this adventure, which, granted, Gary and I had been prepared for two weeks. They were still oblivious to the “type” of restaurant.
We are met at the door by a very French maitre d’hotel, who addresses us in a very heavy French accent,
“So, Mesdames and messieurs, you are ready to eat in total, pitch darkness?”
Sam heard and just stared at the man in disbelief. Lorraine, on the other hand, obviously had not heard or understood exactly what he had said. She was still smiling and “ooing” and “ahhing” over the subdued lounge decor.
“Lorraine,” I said, enunciating every word clearly and precisely, realizing that she had not clearly understood exactly what we were about to encounter, “We are going to eat in total darkness. Pitch black!” It never occurred to me that she would not be as delighted as I.
The smile left her face to be replaced by a pasty whiteness. She definitely understood. It was my first hint that perhaps we were in trouble.
I knew if it were at all feasible, that Lorraine would have bolted. Her whole demeanor changed. She was no longer the bubbly young ingénue. She was now a most disturbed individual, who could not order a double shot of vodka quick enough.
Lorraine informed us she sometimes got claustrophobic. Oh great. She was readily assured by the maitre d’hotel that she could leave the blackened dining room, which we were about to enter, at any time. They didn’t mention a seeing eye dog would be assisting her. Good sport that she was, she said she’d give it a whirl. Well, not a whirl, she probably would have fallen down.
We are assigned our blind waiter, Roberto. And he instructed us to follow him into the dining room. I put my right hand on his shoulder, and the others followed suit. Somewhat of a conga line, without the music.
We enter hesitantly through black curtains and soon we are in pitch darkness. Halfway through, Lorraine just stopped. Consequently, I couldn’t proceed any further. Her fingers were digging into my shoulder. Roberto said to me, “you cannot stop, or we’ll never get to the table.” I pleaded with him, “I’m not stopping, the lady behind me is.” I relay Roberto’s message to Lorraine, and she continues. Reminiscent of Ann Boleyn being lead to the guillotine.
He points out where the table is located, the exact position of the chairs, and we fumble our way into them. Lorraine and I sit down next to each other. Gary and Sam are sitting across from us. However, Sam’s other senses come into play when he realized that Lorraine is not directly across from him. In fact, he realizes it in a most stressed voice. And I suddenly become aware that he has not said a word since he heard, quite clearly from the maître d’hotel, “So, Mesdames and messieurs, you are ready to eat in total, pitch darkness?”
Gary and Sam switch places.
Lorraine whispers to me Sam sometimes have anxiety attacks. Lovely. This just keeps getting better.
Should Sam attempt escape, which he is threatening to do, you can see nothing. He begins calling, in a most embarrassingly loud voice, “ROBERTO! ROBERTO!” And thank god Roberto answers and Sam says, “You are right here, all the time??? All the time?” And Roberto, who is probably, unbeknownst to us, rolling his blind eyes, says, “Yes, no problemo”.
When you are first seated Roberto points out the location of your “big” glass, your “small” glass and your knife and fork. We had ordered a jug of water and bottle of wine. The wine was placed next to the wall, where I was sitting. I was the official wine server. The only way I could do it was put my finger in the glass. I pointed this out to them, but the germs on my finger did not compare in the least to the relief the wine was about to give them.
Sam began to calm down a little. I asked him how his appetizer was and he said, “I can’t eat because I’m holding Lorraine’s hand”. Lorraine added that he was not holding her hand, he was crushing her hand. Lorraine kept feeling my hair and sweater the whole time. Weird, but I think I was reassuring to her. I’m glad someone felt reassured.
Sam kept talking about disembodied voices, just floating around us. He even started to converse with a feminine voice near him. Her name was Teresa. He asked her how her food was and she replied, “Great, Sam, how’s yours?”
We soon abandoned all pretext of using a knife and fork. You haven’t lived till you’ve eaten stewed vegetables with your fingers.
What a night. Definitely not a place to take people for a surprise.
However, the food was pretty good. At least it felt pretty good.