When a dish is placed in front of us at a restaurant, we devour it visually at first, taking in its textures, colours and arrangement before diving in with a knife and fork. At NOX -Dine in the Dark, this concept is turned completely on its head, with visitors dining in complete darkness.
Guiding diners every step of the way – from finding their cutlery on the table to pouring water – are their hosts, who are either blind or live with vision impairments. Experts at living and experiencing food without light, they become their guests’ eyes, helping to reassure and comfort them in the unusual space. The whole experience challenges diners not only to rethink the way they approach their food, but the assumptions governing their world, as they develop a deeper consciousness and respect for their hosts.
On arrival, guests have a 15-minute briefing in the bar area about what to expect during the meal. While learning, there’s an option to sip on a signature cocktail or glass of fine wine, before nibbling on an amuse bouche. After surrendering phones, watches and other light-emitting devices, guests are led upstairs to a completely dark dining room. From there, they’re taken on a culinary journey through the four senses: taste, smell, touch and sound.
The three-course menu, split into 12 small dishes and served four at a time, is the creation of Head Chef, Desmond Lee. With restaurants such as Le Saint Julien, Ember, Braise, and Private Affairs all on his resume, he was perfectly placed to bring the NOX concept to life.
Desmond has been with NOX – Dine in the Dark since its inception in 2013. He enjoys the challenge of creating 12 new dishes every four to six weeks, where the emphasis of each dish is on seasonality and the intensities of flavour, texture and aroma. Numerous hours are spent on research and development in the kitchen, with the chef drawing inspiration from the dishes in his existing repertoire, trips to the market, from trying food at other restaurants and reading various culinary publications.
As diners can’t see in the dining room, their other senses are heightened. Desmond takes into consideration how each dish feels, tastes and smells to the diner, designing a menu that provides a full sensory experience with different flavour combinations, texture, aromas and temperatures.
For instance, you might think that plating doesn’t matter when diners can’t see what is in front of them, but it is actually very important. Desmond and his team always keep in mind which component diners will eat first and how all the flavours combine on their palates. They then plan how to plate the dish, which components should be on top or below, how much of each component should be used and how to place certain ingredients.
While the ever-changing menu keeps things interesting, past dishes have included pan-seared Norwegian scallops with tarragon butter sauce; tea-smoked duck leg with confit spinach, pear jelly and charred marmalade, and chilli and cardamom crème brulee with candied lime zest and charred meringue.
A visit to NOX – Dine in the Dark won’t leave you completely in the dark. Upon finishing your meal, you are ushered back to the downstairs bar, where you’ll be asked to write down what you thought you ate before being shown photos and an ingredients list.
NOX – Dine in the Dark offers Singaporeans a distinctly different dining experience. By removing the ability to see, it promises to have you admiring your food from a completely new perspective.