Have you seen the 2010 romantic comedy “When in Rome?” Yeah, it wasn’t that memorable for me either. Regardless, there is one scene for me that stands out — the dark dining scene. Since seeing the film years ago, I’ve wondered what it would really be like to have dinner in 100% darkness. Well, today, I wonder no more, as I have just recently visited “Unsicht-bar,” a dark-dining experience in Berlin, Germany.
The evening began with a wait, as the line to check in was snaking its way out the door even 15 minutes before the start time. At the front counter we presented our COVID vaccination certificates and IDs (per Germany’s 2G COVID regulations) and then received a “complimentary” (i.e. included in the 50 Euro per person price) aperitif — a Bellini or a non-alcoholic beverage. With our beverages in hand, we took a seat in the lounge area and waited (again), before we were seated in the main dining area below.
Our waitress, let’s call her Dorothee, led us down the stairs and around the corner just outside the main dining room. She is visually impaired, but clearly knows the layout of the restaurant like the back of her hand, as she only used a snapping (human echolocation) technic on a few occasions to help her navigate. We formed a human chain (hand to shoulder), as Dorothee led us to the back corner of the large, low-lit dining room. There were about two or so dozen tables, all equipped with a small plastic candle with an artificial blue flame, and white tablecloths. In the dim room, we could basically only see silhouettes.
A breadbasket was already set out on the table, which was a small relief after the longish wait we had already endured. Then, a few announcements were made about how the evening would work. There were three menus available to choose from — Fish, Vegan, or “Surprise,” and all included a 4-course meal. The exact contents of the dishes would not be revealed until the end of the evening; and, without further ado, the blue candles were collected, and we were left in 100% darkness.
The first dish was a slimy (but tasty) cabbage salad. For me, this was unnervingly difficult to eat. I literally just touched everything with my hands like a barbarian because I wanted to understand the size and contents of the dish. Food was dropped and there was a lot of clanking of forks from around the room.
In the longish wait between the first and second courses, I quickly decided that I was not a fan of eating in the dark. For me, it’s just so much harder to engage with my surroundings when I have nowhere to point my attention. When there was any sort of silence in the middle of our conversation, I felt utterly alone, even though my partner was sitting about 2.5 feet in front of me.
The second course was a creamy soup filled with seasoned vegetables and soggy croutons (which was also delicious!). Mercifully, the soup was easy to manage, but still, to make it easier, I lifted the bowl close to my face, which I realize is not proper etiquette.
Again, a longish wait ensued before we received the third course, which was a fish that I could only deduce was neither salmon nor tuna (it turned out to be perch —yum!). It was paired with potatoes and a well-seasoned (but blessedly not spicy) vegetable curry. Having so many items on a plate was stressful to consume. I didn’t even bother with a knife and just bit off the fish in an un-lady like fashion under the concealment of the dark. They say that dining is supposed to get easier with each course, but for me it just became more distasteful.
The dessert turned out to be a panna cotta with fruit. Honestly, by the time it was served (another not-so-short wait in between), I was just ready to be done with the whole experience. From check in to finish, the event lasted almost 3 hours — a bit too long for me in the darkness. While I would never call the dark “disorienting,” I certainly would not describe it as comfortable. All in all, the experience was interesting. The food was good (nothing spectacular), but all the waiting around (for the initial check in and between courses) kind of decreased the overall quality of the experience. Also, I can’t say that my senses were “heightened” in any way with the lack visual cues; but I’m sure not everyone feels this way. Regardless, the experience was worthwhile, which is good enough!