Opening this week at the Fairmont Dubai on Sheikh Zayed Road is Noire, a new restaurant that offers an experience like no other in the UAE. This eatery is completely cloaked in darkness, meaning diners have no idea what food they’re being served.
While there have been one-off dark dining experiences in the UAE, such as at Nineteen at The Address Montgomerie in Dubai and at various food festivals, Noire claims to be the first restaurant here that is purpose-built for the concept, joining other similar pitch-black restaurants overseas, such as Dans le Noir in London, Opaque in the US and Unsicht-Bar in Germany.
The hotel’s executive chef, Lorraine Sinclair, and the area sales and marketing director, Raki Phillips, explain further.
The new black
After months of planning, preparation and training, Noire is gearing up for its grand launch on Friday.
At a sneak preview, I’m given an idea of what eating here entails.
It starts as I’m led with my hand on a waiter’s shoulder through a curtain into the darkened room. Apart from the red light on the night vision goggles that the waiters use, it is absolutely pitch black in there.
You’re then steered to your seat and talked through how to find your cutlery and drinking glass. And then the food arrives.
Heart of darkness
During development, Sinclair says there were a number of mishaps that have now been ironed out.
“We did some tasting sessions beforehand and we learnt from this that you need food you don’t have to cut,” she says.
“We tried a lobster tail with tandoori sauce and it was really messy. So now we realise we have to make a dish that is either cut up already or can be broken up with a fork.”
To reduce spillage further, you eat from a bowl, using a fork and spoon.
Despite these precautions, Sinclair warns that the odd accident is still possible.
“You might spill on yourself, so I do say to people, don’t come along wearing a white shirt,” she warns.
The first bite
Sinclair says that Noire has proven that much of your taste is reliant on what your eyes see.
For example, on my visit, I completely failed to identify that I was eating red snapper, surmising that it was beef.
“Well, it is quite a meaty fish,” says Sinclair afterwards, in an attempt to mollify my show of culinary incompetence. But she says this confusion is very common.
“In your head you’ll know what it was, but because you can’t see it you doubt what it was,” she explains.
“If I showed you it in the light, of course you’d get it. But in the dark you begin to doubt yourself. Everything that you eat you’re double guessing. Even people who are keen foodies often get it wrong.”
Sinclair also urged would-be diners to enter with an open mind.
“People have to be honest with me. I don’t care what foods you don’t like. I care if you’re allergic to something, but don’t tell me you don’t like fish or whatever,” she asserts.
“For example, what you thought was a tender meat was red snapper. Often people don’t think they like a food from their childhood, but in reality they probably would eat it.”
Back to black
While at first the total darkness can be disconcerting, after you’ve become accustomed to not being able to use your sight, it becomes an intriguing experience.
Phillips, who has been heavily involved in the testing, says he felt similar sentiments at first.
“I expected it to be scary. Not because I’m afraid of the dark, but when you don’t know what’s happening, there is a fear factor associated with it,” he explains.
“I found it to be whimsical, I found it to be fun and exciting.”
Plus, as no one can see you, you can completely ignore your table manners. “It creates this social experience that was very different from dining in the light,” he goes on. “You can get away with stuff in the dark you couldn’t in the light. It makes for a much less formal meal.”
• Noire at Spectrum on One, Fairmont Dubai, is open from Friday to Monday from 7.30pm to 10pm. The three-course set menu costs Dh325, with Dh27 of each meal going toward Sightsavers, a charity that helps visually impaired people in the developing world. Call 04 311 8316 for more information
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