Game Level Up at Noire, Fairmont (Dining in the Dark)
*Reads whatsapp message*
"Your birthday celebrations program starts tonight at 7.30pm,
We have to leave the house at 6.30pm latest"
At the time of receiving the message, I was amongst friends at home having an advanced 40th birthday celebration. Thankfully my party was about to end anyways but I was left curious. What could it be? Where could it be? I'm trying to figure out all the exciting places that we have tried and have not - but really (and rarely) today, my stomach could not hold a buffet spread after the heavy lunch we just had. I wasn't keen on a buffet no matter how fancy schmancy the venue was.
I am feeling all sorts of things - but above all, am excited that this is definitely one of the rare occasions that the Hubs stepped up his game. He usually leaves all the decisions with me - including where we eat on weekends. So I wouldn't be surprised if he would have asked me, but Nooooo, he didn't.
When we reached the valet, I thought we had just stepped out at H Hotel, where a number of nice restaurants are. One of which I am keen on trying and have not, is also there. But I was wrong, it was not The H, but it was The Fairmont. Immediately I knew where we were going! Just late last year my bff's sister was there and mentioned that she would love to try Noire but it needed an advanced reservation - so she couldn't do it due to tight itinerary. I was intrigued, but couldn't think of anyone that I would like to do that with (eating in the dark). So yes, I was very excited that someone thought it out for me - I was really looking forward to it at this point.
So Noire has received awards 2 years in a row for being an innovative and experimental restaurant in the Gulf region. We came earlier than our scheduled dinner timing set at 8pm. We were served mocktails while waiting for the rest of the guest. For this experience, the restaurant operates in such a way where all the guests have to be seated to dine at the same time. The waiters did ask us if we had special requests or allergies that they should be aware of. Thankfully, none of us had any issues - and pleased to know that the food served is 100% halal. That is pretty much our requirement, thank you very much.
When all the guests arrived, and their welcome drinks are served, a waiter then came to explain to us what to expect. It was important that we adhere to the rules for safety and also for the comfort of other guests. As expected, any device that emits light are not allowed to be used - so yes, how uncomfortable is it for a food blogger to not be able to take pictures of food before eating it? If one needs to answer an urgent phone call, the waiter explained that all he need to do is raise his hands, and the service staff will lead him out to do that. All the service staffs will be wearing a night vision goggle to aid us throughout the evening. Once we were briefed, we were then taken in to the very dark restaurant, hidden behind blacked out curtains, led by only the waiter's hands.
Up to that night, I've not recalled ever being in pitch darkness. Even in the bedroom, I always leave some light in the room either by leaving a gap between the curtains to depend on street lights or leaving the bathroom light on and then keeping the door almost shut to let some light in. I take comfort in the knowledge that I won't stump over things or knock on furnitures with those lights aiding me. I've never experienced blindness except when I shut my eyes to sleep - this was a real experience that was going to change my perception of light and sight.
Before I entered the dark room, I was a little concerned if I could be claustrophobic. I could imagine being suffocated by the unimaginable space or lack of it. But thank God, that didn't happen.
As I sat down on my dining chair opposite my husband, I can't help but search frantically for even a small ray of light. I want desperately to make out some shapes or sounds that I'm hearing, but it was not possible. I stretched out my hands in front of me and asked my husband to do the same, we found each other's hands and that gave some sense of relief. Once everyone was seated, we were instructed to feel what's on the table - we were guided to find our basic cutleries - the spoon and the fork. I don't recall if there was a knife - but I think for the sake of this experiment, it might have been excluded intentionally. There was also a glass of water to the right side of the table just a few inches away from the spoon. The first drink came, another mocktail. I cannot even describe how it taste - but thankfully, it was beautiful. Without my sight, I was left only with my imagination and tastebud to make out what I just had - or simply, Appreciate.
Not long after, we were served with our appetizer. It was served on a long rectangular plate. None of us knew what was on the menu as it was entirely the creation of the hosting chef. I was game to try anything. I used the spoon that was on my right to pick up anything I could. I put it in my mouth - it was good. Very good. I have to pick up some more to make sure - but I failed. Several times I struggled to pick up anything from the plate, sometimes it was just a teeny potion - and then it was over! I have walloped the entire plate clean and felt a little cheated. Even the sense of time is stolen from me as I could not predict the amount of food thus feeling a little lost and confused. Kinda like an anti-climax.
(Picture of appetizer insert below)
The next course was the much anticipated main course - which again, we were in the dark about - I can't help the pun. It took quite a while as the servers had to clear our plates and serve us another mocktail to keep us occupied and guessing. (for the non-muslims, wines are served during the 3-course dinner). We tried to chat over dinner. Sometimes I lazily closed my eyes as I see no difference either way. I wanted my sense of hearing to take over and make sense of things - but *yawn* it didn't and I just felt sleepy. You could hear other people's loud conversations, clanging of glasses and once someone even dropped a cutlery. At around this point, I did wonder how the restaurant looked like. Could there be creepy crawlies or dirty napkins that we were not aware of? I quickly shifted that thought to other, nicer thoughts. I am so not going to let it ruin my evening! (If you're an OCD type of person, this might not be for you)
Main course was served maybe in slightly over 15mins or so. After I saw how it looked like after it was over, I understood why it took so long. Now, as someone who loves the unlimited spread of buffet, a disclaimer saying this is going to be fine dining would be useful. This might be my first experience in fine dining - how unfortunate that it has to be in the dark! Lol. I picked up my spoon ready to attack what was on the plate. It wasn't just hunger that led me, it was mostly curiosity! Without any idea what came to me, I picked up a spoon on my right hand and use my left hand to feel where the food is before scooping it up. This was a strategy I resorted to after I gobbled down the entrée too quickly. I could sense different levels of texture in the main course. I correctly guessed (wagyu) beef was in there. I just couldn't make out the other flavors. I tasted creme, so I thought perhaps even some pasta was there. It was really delicious - it is like fireworks in the mouth, a pleasant one with lots of colors and patterns. Nothing was off-putting, too garlicky, too sourish etc - non of that unpleasant strong flavors was there to interrupt the merriment of sensations. It was all beautiful - in fact, I think this in itself is not an easy feat to achieve - how do you please the tastebuds of people from different walks of life? As someone who cooks often for guests - I know the difficulty too well. In this case, the Chef totally scored with all of us - easily about 10 different nationalities in that room alone. My only wish was that, it didn't have to end. (Main course pictured below)
After this euphoria, I was not going to waste time guessing what I was eating anymore. Whatever comes next will be gobbled the same way I had done earlier on. By this time I have complete trust on the chef's selections and creativity. When desert was served, I dug in, cleaned up the plate and sat back totally feeling satisfied the night is over and my tummy is happy filled. It was an amazing experience - something totally different that I ever had tried - so I would highly recommend it. My apologies if you read this and think, nah, I already knew what was going to happen, no surprises there!
One thing is for sure, being unable to see is something we can only imagine but never had to experience, Alhamdulillah. I tried to imagine being in that state and not only having to eat, but bath, walk, go to work, etc - how I changed my perception of blindness. You can still "see" with your other senses if you give it a chance and discover the God-given abilities you have. As a self-confessed foodie who is keen on the presentation of food - this experience took that away from me and I was left with just simply, food to mouth delivery and a heightened imagination. Without my ability to see, I felt every smooth texture, every crackle in my mouth and when needed chewed slowly to give myself time to appreciate the moment and flavors. Had I seen those food on the table, I would be busy Instagramming it, critique it's presentation, question it's taste and complained and fuss about a single strand of hair I saw on the plate. I have no way of confirming that ever happened in darkness - so I would say, the journey between food and (wo)man here is pure and unadulterated.
Overall, I was so happy with this experience, I had rejected all other forms of celebrations and pampering my husband had planned for me the next day (actual birthdate). He scored 10/10 for effort and ingenuity. The restaurant scored 9.5/10 overall (with 0.5 deducted for my own insecurities).
After dinner, all the guests gathered at the bar while the Chef introduced himself and the dishes he had served us. I could never have imagined what the food looks like - it was really beautifully displayed but I can't help thinking why bother? Lol. The guests tried to guess what they had and some hit the jackpots, and some like me, failed miserably. Another highlight of the evening was that we were then allowed to enter the room again with night vision goggles this time. We put it on and I walked behind my husband who was again led by the waiter. I expected to see the room clearly but unfortunately, the night vision goggles just really gave a light glimpse of shadows in luminous green outlines. I was struggling to make out anything as sometimes the image disappeared. I asked the waiter, is this what you see too? He said yes, and I can't help wondering how difficult that must be. Kudos to the team for the extraordinary efforts. I enjoyed the evening immensely.
Would definitely come back again someday :)
(Pic above : Dessert was served)