Fired up with a deep-seated enthusiasm for the unusual, I book myself a slot for a dinner in the dark, at The Blind Angel (Zum Blinden Engel) restaurant in Munich. I ask a friend if she’d be open to joining me on this journey. With the inborn skepticism of the critic, she shivers discernibly at the idea of dining in a space with all sources of light eliminated, including mobile phones and cameras. But we both concur that jumping out of the safe ship usually leads to self-revelation, and we make a reservation online at €50 each. We are required to choose among a meat, fish, vegetarian, and ‘surprise’ plate.
On the appointed date, we arrive well in advance, with the zeal that those with a flight to catch usually muster. And, in a way, the experience is a bit like changing continents. Rico—our partially-sighted waiter for the evening—asks us to hold on to his shoulders, as he glides towards our seating. The tables have been turned. The servers here are all either visually impaired or completely blind; and yet here they are, guiding us around, with the deep empathy that life’s challenges generate. On the way, Rico asks us where we’re from and what we do, to put us at ease.
The transformation from the lit reception area into the dark inner sanctum is as sudden as it is total. Perceived danger drains all smugness from one, and the friend behind me clasps my shoulders more firmly—a response that relatively familiar circumstances would not perhaps evoke. We feel for the chairs and, once seated, for the plates. Rico returns with our glasses of red wine, and presents them with caution.
With the usual associations that light brings stripped away, and the absence of external distractions, the other senses are heightened. I taste the food with forensic enquiry. The pork is succulent, served with vegetable and potato pancake. Delicious but regular. I remind myself that I am not here to experience plate poetry or culinary experimentation; I am here to have a special experience. My friend (who has ordered the fish) tries the pork on my plate, but declares it tastes like chicken. We appreciate, perhaps for the first time, how interdependent the senses are. I give up using a fork because it makes me clumsy, and end up eating with my fingers, while contemplating what those who live in darkness must adapt to.
Social inhibitions are also lowered. There’s a couple at the next table by the sounds of it—occasional coos float through the darkness and the lack of light appears to be lubricating their interaction. Personally, I don’t have to worry about a bit of spinach being caught between my teeth or using the wrong spoon. Our guard lowered, we are prompted into unexpected revelation. By the time we leave here—three hours later—we feel as if we’ve stepped out of a modern fairytale. The demons of the dark confronted, the staff, who have gone beyond their challenges, are the emergent heroes. And the treasure discovered is a new sense of appreciation for the gift that is our senses.