"Welcome to The Dark Side", the maitre'd intoned with more than a hint of a smile playing on his lips.
We had arrived. The time had come. Begone oh boring wholesome dining by illumination. We were here to feast under cover of dark. Pitch darkness. Night-vision-goggle-wearing-waiter-type darkness.
Aaron, our maitre'd with our night-vision-goggled waiter, Patrick.
When I first heard of the concept of dining in the dark, the cynic in me saw a flashy gimmick and cheap lighting bills. But the more I thought about it, and the more people egged me on, well... what could I do but grab my
The evening begins in a lit lobby where patrons are handed a glass of champagne whilst they peruse the menu and choose their meals. The menu is an exact replica of the restaurant downstairs, Two Fat Ducks by the Park. Not only does this enable kitchen efficiency, it also means that any patrons who panic in the dark, can relocate (to the safety of light) downstairs.
R was my intrepid dining partner this evening, and continuing the theme of tonight's gastronomic intrepidness, we elected for the Mystery Menu. Three courses to the chef's choosing. We are eating blind. Literally and metaphorically.
Patrick, our waiter, appears from behind heavy black curtains sporting headgear akin to something out of Total Recall. He hands us two paper bibs. We glance at each other momentarily, and then assure him we will put them on inside. I am instructed to place my hand on Patrick's shoulder. The other hand holds aloft my champagne glass. R is behind me. The curtains part. And we are in.
It is black. Pitch black. Patrick is walking slowly but I am terrified there will be obstacles, steps, tables. "There are no steps in here" he assures me, somehow reading my mind. I clumsily bump into a table in response.
My eyes are struggling to make out objects but it is futile. There is nothing which can be seen. Only voices which seem to float from nowhere. How many people are in here? you wonder. But how can you tell?
"Ok, your table is here. Your chair is just... here. Can you feel it?" Patrick asks.
I'm groping in the dark, feeling like a caricature of a blind person. I don't trust anything. I have to make sure I know which way the seat is facing. How far away it is from the table. Exactly where the seat of the chair is, before I ease myself slowly into it.
View of our table
We are sitting next to each other--classroom-style. We cannot help but giggle at the bizarreness of this experience. The restaurant seems remarkably quiet. There are people in here, but conversation is muted. People seem to be leaning into each other with intimate conversations.
We simultaneously explore the table with extensive hand-patting. We need to satiate our curiosity. And assess the risk of breakage. Two knives, two forks... pat pat... napkin... pat pat... that's it. I pat a path to the other end of the table to make sure. I'm conscious of where I've already placed my champagne glass.
A small red light hovers next to us. "Your entrees", a voice announces.
Entree, Mystery Menu
Plates are silently eased before us. I pat cautiously until I find the plate. We instinctively plunge in with our fingers.
"I'm feeling something hard, like it's... fried? And um... sauce..." Cautious lick. "Mmm...tomato-y..." Prod prod. Poke. Sniff. Lick.
I feel like a four-year-old Martian. Cuisine is being dismantled by curious fingers, sniffed cautiously, tasted with curious suspicion. It startles me how hard it is to recognise foods by taste alone. The brain is furiously trying to unscramble a code comprised of texture, smell and taste. It is frustratingly difficult, and a wake-up call to my supposedly-refined tastebuds.
Mains, Mystery Menu
Our mains arrive and there is definitely meat on some kind of bone. Beef? Lamb? Pork? The salivary glands are sending frantic messages to the brain, but the brain merely looks up from its newspaper and shrugs. Some things are easy to identify but others remain tantalisingly elusive.
We find ourselves inadvertently hunching over our plates caveman-style. Soon there is nothing left on the plate--we even wipe our plates clean with our fingers. We've worked out some individual elements but the "big picture" escapes us. I feel somewhat cheated. Like I've seen an artist's colour palette but not the final masterpiece. I realise how important the visual aspect of food presentation is to my appetite, my anticipation, my savouring, my aesthetic indulgence.
At the same time I realise how much I do take my sight for granted. How my tastebuds are lazy. How I really should eat with my fingers more often.
As we wait for dessert, R explores the table again. R finds a mislaid chip in the darkness and immediately offers to share it. It is broken in half and we consume it happily, delighting in this calorific bonus.
I find my eyes are getting tired, straining in futile to make out something--anything--in the darkness. I've also been catching myself closing my eyes whenever I taste things intently. Pointless but out of habit one supposes. My eyes feel exhausted though and droop heavily in the darkness. R, on the other hand, comments that her eyes are even wider open, trying to see better.
Dessert, Mystery Menu
Our desserts finally arrive. One is easy to identify. The other is a little trickier. But they are both good and satisfyingly soothing. Funny that there is much less stress involved when it comes to invisible sweets.
We form a conga train again and follow our waiter as he weaves us in-between tables. The curtain parts. We blink hesitatingly out of our slumbering stupor.
We have seen the light.
A couple of juicy tidbits and did-you-knows:
Overall I would recommend this as a must-do experience. Apart from any gastronomic lessons learnt, it certainly made me reconsider the beauty of all our senses. And besides, stepping out of one's comfort zone is always a good thing.
For maximum effect, I also recommend you go the whole hog and order the Mystery Menu. And no peeking at the menu beforehand for clues! For this reason, I also suggest that Sydney-siders who think they may wish to go, to look away now... resist temptation and close this entry.
For others (and the Sydney-siders who have to peek at their Xmas pressies when nobody's watching), we were fortunate enough to get access to plated meals as they left the kitchen (the staff were wonderfully hospitable and extremely accommodating of our incessant curiosity). The most telling thing about the night was our unanimous dismay when we realised what works of art we had been destroying with clumsy fingers and unrefined mouth-shovelling. "Ohhhh... That's what we ate... That looks good... I would've enjoyed that if I'd known it looked like that", we lamented.
And who said "it all looks the same in your stomach?"
This is your last chance to look away now...
A selection of dishes which happened to be plated up as we hovered near the kitchen...
Peking duck and shitake mushroom crisp wonton stack with red capsicum reduction $14.50
Prawn, mango and avocado salad with seared scallops and chilli jam $16.50
Herb-marinated lamb loin on creamy eschalot mash with brocollini, beetroot and port wine jus $28.50
MSA striploin of beef with crispy potato wafers, asparagus, bell pepper jam and red wine jus $27.50
Mango and nectarine tart with Persian fairy floss and passionfruit sauce $9.50
For the record, our mystery menu meal consisted of:
Peking duck and shiitake mushroom crisp wonton stack with red capsicum reduction
Coconut-crusted soft shell crab with chilled Asian noodle salad
MSA striploin of beef with crisp potato wafers, asparagus, bell pepper jam and red win jus
Parmesan-crusted veal cutlet on a baked apple and potato tart with wilted spinach and red wine jus
Truffle-infused strawberries with white chocolate ice cream and puff pastry twists
Chocolate and chilli brulee with wafer biscuits
The Dark Side of Hyde Park CLOSED
Tel: 02 93615987
Mystery menu 2 courses plus glass of champagne $55
Mystery menu 3 courses plus glass of champagne $65
You will be enlightened on what you were actually served at the end of your meal.
Related GrabYourFork posts:
Things that go chomp in the night, 10 Jan 2005
Darkness be my friend, 12 Jan 2005
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1/15/2005 11:59:00 pm