Dark days


The photograph accompanying this piece isn't an attempt at being a smart-ass – it really is what the inside of a restaurant I went to recently looks like. Dunkelrestaurant Nocti Vagus ('dark restaurant Nocti Vagus) is one of Berlin's most well-known eateries, and this is because the eating area is enveloped in pitch darkness. You cannot see what you're eating (you can't even see your own hand if you press it to your nose), and the menu, a set one comprising a soup, starter, main course and dessert in chicken, vegetarian, beef, fish and a 'surprise' variation, doesn't spell out what the dishes contain. Instead there's a series of cryptic rhymes and suchlike, which you're supposed to try and decipher. You select a menu in the (lit) lobby area, and a waiter is assigned to you - all the waiters working there are 90 percent or more blind.

Your waiter leads you into the darkened eating area (cell phones switched off, radium watches put into your pocket) and seats you at your table, while you try and suppress a rising panic at suddenly being completely and utterly sightless. The table is laid out, you're told where your cutlery is ('fork, 3 o clock, knife, 9 0 clock') and then the dishes are brought, course by course, for you to eat and decipher. I went with the 'Surprise' menu, where you don't even get the benefit of written clues, and did my best to figure the food out. It was a completely surreal experience, sitting there in complete darkness, yet hearing the sounds of a 'normal', lively restaurant, with people chatting, children squealing and cutlery clinking. My soup appeared to be a potato-based one, with leeks and what tasted like meatballs. My salad had rocket leaves and various other kinds of foliage, with a mayonnaise dressing in there for sure, and walnuts. The main course, a delicious piece of meat in what I thought was a red wine sauce, appeared to be beef (or a rather tough piece of chicken). The dessert was sublime, and apart from a little ball of chocolate, I didn't have a clue as to what it was. I finished my meal, was led out into the light by my waiter and blinked for a while as my eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness. A menu was handed to me, and a glance through it finally revealed what I had been eating. I had gotten most of the dishes right, except that the main course had been lamb, not beef. The dessert had been a concoction containing a cherry sauce, a sorbet and some mousse, apart from the ball of chocolate. The bill for the evening? A stupendous 55 euro, including a soft drink – just to give you an idea, I've survived on 50 euro for two days while travelling in Europe. Nevertheless, the Nocti Vagus restaurant, although a bit of a gimmick, will remain among my most memorable dining experiences. Now excuse me while I go and remove the fork lodged in my cheek.