Kept in the Dark

Here’s a picture of my dinner last night.

Picture 26

Or at least that’s how it appeared to me at the time. I was eating at ctaste, a restaurant experience where you eat entirely in the dark. By dark I don’t mean the lights are turned off I mean that there is a profound absence of light. You literally cannot see your hand in front of your face.

The staff working inside the restaurant rooms are visually impaired, so part of the experience is about understanding a little more about what life without vision might be like. You’re led into the room in a sort of cha cha line directly to your table, if you need to leave the room you can call your waiter/waitress to help you – and you will need the help.

At first it’s very unsettling; for the first ten minutes I was trying to see, trying to find something to focus my eyes on, after that I got used to it. Until my food arrived.

Not only could I not see what was on my plate I couldn’t see my plate! It was a matter of taking a stab in the dark and then guessing what I’d chosen. We had a lot of fun with the guessing part, and on the whole we weren’t too bad. Although one of the guests was convinced there was no salmon involved because she doesn’t like salmon. She was in for a surprise when we were told the menu at the end of the meal. We had to pour our own drinks, just passing the glasses around the table was tricky. Without vision we had to remember where thing were and we had to communicate a lot more about what we were doing.

I noticed I still turned my head towards the voice of whoever was speaking, and I still gestured with my hands to explain things. Really pointless, but somehow hard to change the habits of a lifetime.

The concept aims to heighten your sense of taste, and I definitely paid more attention to the flavour and texture since I couldn’t see the food.

A second part of the concept is to give visitors insight into life as a person with a vision impairment. It does. I know we were only in the dark for a couple of hours but the disorientation and the need to rely on other senses was a new experience. There was also a sense of helplessness – we could not find our table without someone leading us – that would be exhausting.

Even the interaction with the staff took a bit more work, we figured out fairly early that if you keep talking to your waitress it increases the chances of accuracy when she passes you the glasses, even so my dessert was thrust at me somewhere mid-chest. Somewhat surprising.

Would I go again? It’s much more about the experience than the food, and I would take a group there for the experience.

Here’s a short clip – in Dutch – showing something of the Antwerp restaurant to give you an idea of the experience.

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