Dining In The Dark
It’s been over a year since Singapore went into lockdown in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19, yet things are still far from normal; bars, pubs, and restaurants can only open until 10:30pm with a maximum of eight people per group, however, that is going back to the original number of five as of this Saturday after a recent small resurgence of cases. In fact, this is what we’re going to be looking at for the next few weeks:
Admittedly, the steps the government have taken must be effective, because thus far there have only been a grand total of 31 Covid deaths in Singapore among its 5.7 million residents, but progress has been extremely slow with each day, week, and month just seeming to meld into the next. Here we sit in the fifth month of 2021 and we’ve done next to nothing this year, because there just isn’t a whole lot to do in this country, which is the sole reason I’ve hardly had anything to write about so far. But complacency is something that doesn’t sit well with Anna, she constantly needs something to occupy her mind. As a result of this, Anna has been trying to find interesting and unique activities to try, such as a couple of weeks ago when she had us doing the Singapore Ripper, a game that had a team of us wandering around the city trying to solve riddles and find clues in order to solve a murder-mystery, just like a group of younger, 50% male Jessica Fletchers if the culprit and weapon used for the crimes in Murder, She Wrote were ultimately determined over several rounds of beers mid-afternoon at the pub.
Another activity she had planned occured a couple of days ago when we attended Dine in the Dark at Nox, a concept they describe as:
Take a plunge into Singapore’s most unique dining experience, an intriguing new world of mystery and sensation you have never experienced before. Join us on a culinary journey through taste, smell, touch and sound, in total darkness. Seated in our pitch-black dining room, you will enjoy an exquisite mystery tasting menu of 12 beautiful dishes, crafted from the finest ingredients by our Chef de Cuisine and his team.
Enhance your experience with an additional wine or cocktail tasting to go along with your meal. Our blind and visually impaired hosts who have been specially trained to offer guidance and reassurance to sighted guests will be taking care of you throughout your dinner. It is truly a human experience when the roles are reversed and the blind become your eyes, opening your mind to a deeper consciousness.
This affinity leads to mutual trust and respect, and a realization of the value of their work and overall ability to carry out tasks. This makes NOX – Dine in the Dark to more than just a dining experience, it is a unique mind-altering sensory experience. Definitely a treat for special occasions!
But that’s just where the fun begins, because this is apparently what we would be doing after the dinner:
At the end of your dinner, you will be led down to the lit up lounge area, where you will receive a form to fill up with your guesses of what you think you have eaten in the dark dining room. Thereafter, we will present you with pictures and descriptions and you can compare with your impressions and find out how many of your guesses were correct.
I have always found the concept of sensory deprivation while eating interesting ever since we learnt a little about it while I was studying psychology in university, but this particular event could have me dealing with more than just a lack vision. I had developed a cold about a week earlier, it was nothing major, but besides the terrified looks you get when you sneeze in this current environment, my nose could potentially still be quite blocked when the day of the event had come around so there was the possibility for me to have a weakened sense of smell as well. That’s not going to be too helpful when it comes to figuring out what we had eaten, because smell is linked to about 80% of what we taste and without it we can really only detect sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savoury sensations and not a whole lot more. In fact, the article from which I got that information has a simple experiment that proves how difficult it is to detect the difference between the taste of cubes of peeled apple, pear, and raw potato without the ability to see or smell them! I was going to need a little luck!
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
The day was here and fortunately I was feeling a lot better, but regardless, I’d have Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark playing in my head all day, I just couldn’t tell Anna about the song or else she’d probably want to do the dance at some stage during the night (right). Due to Covid guidelines we had to book the restaurant out as a group of no more than eight people so it would be Anna making her third visit for this event, as well as myself, and the rest were her colleagues and their spouses. I guess I could’ve worn pretty much anything, as a large portion of the night was going to be spent in a pitch black room with visually impaired staff, but I decided to try and appear remotely classy to those that would be arriving directly from work so I threw on my terrible Volkswagen shirt and some pants, did my hair, and we both took our ride to Bugis through a torrential downpour, soon arriving at Nox. The event began in the bar downstairs for a few drinks, but that would also be where the photos would cease so here is the obligatory album of shots while we waited for everyone to arrive:
Once everyone was there we were told to place all of our phones, tablets, computers, and essentially anything that emits light into private lockers. The staff in the bar and kitchen obviously needed to be able to see what they were doing, however, all of the staff that would be serving us while we ate were at least legally blind, some of them completely blind. One such server, Bernard, approached us and introduced himself, and then told us the route we would need to take to get to the dining room once we were up the stairs, so we all got behind him, put our hands on the shoulders of the person in front of us, and made our way like a conga line into nothingness, winding our way while being led to the tables where we would be seated, me occasionally needing to wave an arm around to check for low-hanging lights and doorways. It was quite remarkable how the staff were able to navigate their way to the room, as well as make their way around the tables, even while carrying food and drink, relying on their own unique clicking sounds they made with their mouths and the echoes they heard.
We would be having the Prix Fixe Dinner with Anna and the others getting the optional wine pairing, our dinner described as “a mystery set menu crafted from the finest ingredients by our head chef and his team. The menu consists of 12 unique dishes created for your tasting pleasure that spans over 3-courses”. Obviously we needed to inform them of any allergies or food restrictions in advance so they could cater to the attendees who were unable to eat everything, but a sample menu on their site is only written very vaguely:
A play on temperatures. Crunchy, tangy, sweet and savoury, a perfect start to any meal.
“A Feast for the Senses”
Experience a symphony of perfect combinations as you dive into a playground of flavours, textures and aromatics that will leave you wanting more!
This was going to be fun, but it took a little while to get settled into the pitch black room. We were told where to find our cutlery and our water glass, glasses the staff continued to fill flawlessly by listening to the change in tone as the volume of the glass rose nearer to the top. Seriously, not a drop was spilled and there weren’t any accidents as the staff made their way up and down the stairs and around around the tables, a task that had them carrying up to 10 trays at a time in the pre-Covid days, all the while adding to the choir of oral clicks. Even as our eyes adjusted ever so slightly to our environment, it was difficult to make out anything more than an extremely vague silhouette. Oh, and the glow in the dark hands of the watch worn by the guy seated beside me. Still, everything would be placed in the exact same location and arrangement when it was served, it was just up to us to maintain a routine in an effort to adapt to not being able to make out a thing in front of us, but just to be extra cautious I would continue to hold on to the beer that would be delivered to me with each course. When each of the three courses arrived it consisted of four relatively small, round bowls placed in a diamond shape in front of you. Each time a set came out we tried to figure out what was in it, but I was really only getting by on textures and in the end there were merely three things I was relatively certain I had eaten out of the twelve dishes; a salad similar to acar, some foie gras, and some kind of pork. In between courses we chatted about how we were handling the vision-deprivation thing and we clearly weren’t doing it on a level even close to our servers. The guy with the glowing watch had to keep checking with his hands to see if there was any remaining food in his bowl, Anna just kept instinctively shutting her eyes despite not being tired, and she also accidentally groped the boob of the woman seated beside her while trying to find her spoon.
At the conclusion of the meal there were rounds of speeches, due to the majority of the attendees working in the field of ophthalmology, but there was one minor problem beginning to emerge; before making our way down to the restaurant we had quickly stopped off for a couple of drinks with a friend. When we arrived at Nox we were the only people there and others came a bit late so I had a few more beers then. Once dinner had commenced, a new beer was brought with each course and the courses didn’t take all that long to come out so I was drinking these in relatively rapid succession and now I was busting for a pee in a room completely devoid of any light that I had absolutely no way of navigating.
The speeches were finally finished and we did our little conga in the dark down to the bottom bar, me making an emergency beeline straight for the bathroom the moment there was light. As soon as I had gone about my business and had returned to the bar, Bernard jokingly told me that I should’ve just gone in one of my beer bottles. Before long he took centrestage and told us his story of losing his vision in 2017 and how having worked at the restaurant since had helped him rehabilitate and sharpen his other senses in an absolutely fascinating personal journey and then it was time for the big reveal. We only briefly discussed amongst ourselves as to what we thought we may have eaten, but we were about to find out exactly what it was through photographs and a descriptive breakdown, although when it comes to the appetisers, I missed all of the precise details but for the last dish.
SPOILER ALERT! The dishes change each month, but because Anna and I had the standard menu for the month of May, 2021, here’s a list of what we ate that night:
- Fish taco
- Fois gras with roasted pumpkin, crushed hazelnuts, and a balsamic base
- Swordfish with mango and celery relish, and a mango sauce
- Stewed lamb shank with dollops of feta cream, a red cabbage sauce, and a tomato sauce
- Smoked duck breast served with grapes, leeks, shallots, and a raisin chutney
- Braised ox tail with sautéed mushrooms, sweet potato mash, and a shallot jus
- White peach sorbet with a peach compote and burnt peach pieces
- Vanilla ice cream with chocolate rice crispies
- Deconstructed blueberry cheesecake
- Coffee panna cotta with coffee and chocolate granola
In hindsight it is impossible to believe that that is what our dinner was, although Anna was pretty accurate when it came to guessing the desserts and I did a decent job with the appetisers, however, everyone who was served the smoked duck was convinced they had eaten pork. Now I’d love to be able to eat it all again in a lit room, because I would happily pay for that meal any day, it was fantastic, but I would also return to do it again this way in a heartbeat as well, perhaps not breaking the seal before being led up to the restaurant, left stranded in the dark with an overwhelming urge to urinate.
The menu changes regularly so if you want to make a reservation, you can do it here, you won’t regret it. Also, a special shoutout to our server, Bernard, you do an incredible job and are an inspiration to us all!
Looks like we got in just in time, just found this out today: