Monday, May 5, 2014

Eating in the dark at The Dark Table, Vancouver

Last weekend we enjoyed a city break in Vancouver - once again killing 2 birds with one stone we were celebrating Chris's birthday and running the Vancouver Sun Run.

We headed off early on Friday morning and went via the Aggasiz Tulip Festival. The fields were in full bloom and after a short walk from the parking lot we were in the middle of it. Rows and rows of the beautiful blooms in lots of different colours! - just gorgeous and very spring like! We lucked out with some great weather too - although there had been a lot of rain the fields were pretty dry - in fact strangely spongey and rather fun to walk on!



We checked into the St.Regis Hotel for our weekend - it was a fabulous small boutique hotel and the location was second to none right on Dunsmuir and just one block from the start line for our race on Sunday! From the moment we checked in the doorman remembered us and greeted us by name throughout our stay - talk about great customer service. There was free wifi and free bottled water in the rooms. The rooms were small, but very nicely decorated and modern. There were cosy bathrobes and an amazing bathroom - it was nearly as big as the room itself. The breakfast was also an awesome perk - included as part of the room rate it was an a la carte menu served meal cooked to order and was delicious, plus an on-site pub/bar which was perfect for drinks before we headed out to dinner in the evenings.


Anyway, possibly the most exciting part of our weekend was Friday night when we had reservations at The Dark Table. This is a blind dining restaurant - meaning that you're eating in the dark. Pitch. Black. Darkness. I first came across the concept back in January when we watched the movie About Time and there are 2 characters who meet at a dark restaurant.  I loved the idea but lamented that it was a bit hip to have such a thing here. Literally the next day a work colleague of mine was at a conference in Vancouver and posted on her Facebook that she was 'dining in the dark' that evening. With a quick google search I discovered that indeed there was such a restaurant as per the movie in Vancouver, and we were visiting in April for the Sun Run! I made the reservations there and then!!

There are 2 'sittings' and we were booked for 8:45pm as a table for 4 - we were dining with our friends Les and Deanie. I think we were all super excited about what was to come. On arrival you sit out on the verandah and check out the menu - it was pretty simple - maybe a half dozen choices for entrée and then a 'surprise' starter and dessert. They take your food and drinks order and then you get called by name to meet your server at the main door. You line up one behind each other, putting both hands on the shoulders of the person in front and with the first of your group with their hands on the servers shoulders and you're off...after passing through 2 doors you enter complete darkness! The servers are all visually impaired themselves - our server had been completely blind since age 7. But these guys know how to move!! We were whisked along at quite the pace and led to our table.

We could see NOTHING. Nada. You could put your hand in front of your face and you couldn't see it. Chris had to take off his watch since the glow-dial was blindingly bright and in danger of ruining the atmosphere!

You were left at the table for a few minutes to orientate yourselves (before they let us loose with alcoholic beverages in open glassware containers!). The table was large. You could barely reach the person opposite you even when you were both stretched out - on reflection I suppose that was quite key in not knocking things over and fumbling around for your drinks glass - there were no 'extras' on the table - a simple textured place-mat and your cutlery, so after some feeling around you got quite comfortable.


The food was OK. Perfectly nice, but not wow. We had warm bread rolls and the starter was a simple salad, which I felt that I rocked! I even managed to use cutlery and pick it all up with a fork - which frankly I find challenging at the best of times! (at least I think I got it all!). For my main course I'd picked a stuffed chicken breast which was tasty. I didn't find my vegetables till later on so most of it I was just eating great hunks of meat rather than a mixed forkful of food. Well, most of it I ate with the fork!! Eating with your fingers soon became the easier and more instantly satisfying option! Dessert was a very ordinary chocolate mousse-y-cake thing - which should definitely have been a cutlery kind of affair, but by this time most definitely wasn't. But no-one can see you!!

But the food was not why I was here. Seriously I was competing with the Cheshire cat for the size of my grin that night! I just couldn't stop smiling and laughing. It was SO. FRIGGIN'. FUN!! When you needed to use the wash-room you had to call out for your server and he would come, you'd place your hands on his shoulders and he would whisk you off 'doing the conga' style. And you had to hold on tight because he was a busy man and was moving some and you were terrified of loosing your grip and being stranded mid-restaurant not knowing your nose from your ass, and never finding your way out!! I just found it all completely hysterical!! When you were done you had to stand at the bathroom door and call out again so he could lead you back.
Photo source
We were there a good couple of hours and had an absolute BLAST. Possibly the best dining experience I've ever had. And when your face hurts from smiling so much you know it's been a great, great night! It was fascinating to be dining in the dark - an insight into what blind people experience every day and you rely so much more on your other senses - despite our table mates being 'so far away' opposite us we never had trouble communicating - I guess because your hearing kicks up a notch to compensate. And texture and feel became so important for eating in particular.

If you ever get the opportunity to dine in the dark I'd totally recommend it - but go with friends - we were chatting to some couples who'd been and it didn't seem that they had quite as much fun - I think it's not the place for a romantic dinner for 2 (especially when you're sat next to a table of 4 drunken idiots cackling with laughter and giggling all night long!). I wouldn't necessarily go back - not because I didn't absolutely love it but I think it's a bit of a 'one-off' experience not to be missed!

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