Dark Table: Vancouver’s Blind Dining Experience
I’m definitely one of those people who scours my daily Groupon and Living Social emails in search of a good restaurant deal, so I was ecstatic when I saw an offer for Dark Table, Vancouver’s blind dining restaurant. I’d been wanting to check it out for a few months, so I jumped at the chance and reserved a table for last week. The ‘blind dining’ part of the restaurant is the reason it’s so popular, as guests enjoy their meals in the darkness and are served by blind of visually impaired servers. The idea is based partly on guests experiencing a little of what it might be like for a blind person to eat a three course meal, and partly on the opportunity to explore and enhance other senses when you don’t have your sight.
We arrived at the restaurant with little idea of what to expect (except for what I’d read on Tripadvisor, which I check religiously before going anywhere). We checked in with the host just outside the building who gave us a food and a drinks menu. The food menu was short, as the appetizer and desert were listed as ‘surprise’ – eeeek! There were five entre options; I chose the stuffed chicken while my other half, James, went for the beef. Once we had ordered, our server met us at the main door and took us inside. This was the part when everything got vey dark, very quickly. To find our way to our table, I put my hand on Rose’s shoulder and James put his on mine, then we shuffled our way through the restaurant like a very slow, shaky train. As soon as we started moving, Rose would periodically shout out ‘careful!’, not to us but to other servers who were also moving through the area (some with much longer trains of 8 or more people!). When we arrived at our table we were able to feel for our seats, then reach out and find our place settings. Rose left to get us out water, and then we were on our own in the dark.
Except we weren’t on our own, which was part of the fun. The two of us were seated at a small, circular wooden table in a corner of the room (we felt the walls behind and to the left of us) and could hear lots of other voices around us. It sounded like one Canadian couple were sitting across from us, and another German duo behind us. Other than that, it was difficult to pinpoint exactly where people were sitting. By the time the bread arrived we’d come to terms with the fact that our eyes were not going to adjust to the darkness at all, and enjoyed attempting to open our pack of butter and spread it on our bread with our new handicap. The bread was just a warm-up, and when our ‘surprise’ appetizer was laid in front of us, we both dived in with our knives, forks and finally hands to work out what was on our plate.
I won’t ruin the surprise for anyone who is thinking about going, so I’ll just say that there were some interesting textures and flavours. The mains arrived soon after and were absolutely delicious. The protein had been pre-sliced for us, but perfectly cooked vegetables and various types of potatoes yet again made using knives and forks a challenge. I lost count of the times I thought I’d speared some chicken with my fork, only to bring it to my mouth and find it empty. D’oh! The entrees were that delicious that James actually licked his plate clean, before reaching over to sample some of mine (unbeknown to me in the dark!). Desert was another surprise, and a recognizable dish. It was nice, and also the course after which my hands ended up the messiest.
The experience was one of those things that you really do have to see (groan) to believe. For me, eating in the dark was surprisingly easy to get used to, but the shuffling across the restaurant to the washroom terrified and confused my poor brain. Conversation was easy with two of us, but I can imagine things getting much more complicated if trying to sustain a discussion with a group of people who can’t see each other for social cues. How would you know who was going to talk when?! The volume in the room was lower than usual, as something about the lack of light encouraged people to keep their voices down. All except James, who was happy to ask such questions as ‘if all I see is black right now, what do blind people see?’. I joke, but it was a question that Rose was more than happy to answer, and encouraged us to ask her anything that came to mind while we had the opportunity. When we eventually left the restaurant we felt like we’d been inside for an hour, but it was actually more than two! Without a watch or a phone it proved difficult to keep track of time.
I absolutely recommend this unique experience to anyone lucky enough to be living close to any of Canada’s three blind restaurants in Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal. At Dark Table the food itself was let down by the below average appetizer and desert, though the entrees were absolutely delicious and the overall experience can’t be missed.