“I think that’s a tomato,” he says. “There’s no way there’s a tomato in there,” I say. “What else could it be then?”
So begins our conversation as my partner and I sample the Dining in the Dark experience at Bab Al Qasr in Abu Dhabi.
While the concept has sprung up at restaurants around the world, including in Dubai, this is the first time it’s come to the capital. The experience is set to launch on September 15 and is priced at Dh249 per person, which includes a welcome drink, canapes and a three-course mystery menu that can be customised to any diet.
The National got a first “look” at the Dining in the Dark experience ahead of its launch. While we won't go into too much detail about the food itself, as we don’t want to ruin the element of surprise, here’s what you can expect.
Arriving at Bab Al Qasr on the Corniche, we’re able to go straight from the parking garage to Fresh Basil on the second floor, the restaurant hosting the experience.
The floor is dimly lit with candles on either side of the hallway. This is in preparation for what’s to come and helps our eyes adjust to less lighting.
Our host, Joel, hands out aprons for us to put on while he dons a pair of night-vision goggles. These are to help him see us while we’re being served and inform us when we have completed a dish.
Clothes duly protected, we head into the blacked-out restaurant, my hands on Joel’s shoulders and my partner’s hands on mine. We inch forward, step by step, like a slow conga line, and make our way past three black curtains before we reach the table. All I’m able to make out is the small red dot emitted by Joel’s goggles.
Being unable to see the food you’re about to consume is a unique sensation. After Joel explains where the cutlery is (the knives have been removed for safety purposes), the appetiser is brought out. I’m immediately drawn to the smell of something sweet.
I decide to blindly dip my finger into the dish – feeling unconfident I can navigate a fork or spoon to my face without spilling its contents. I’m pleasantly surprised by the taste, although my partner is not a fan, but such is life with a mystery menu.
Next, we’re brought our mains. The dish is warmer, and yet again I stick my fingers into it first. My partner is happier with this choice of meal, but says he tastes flavours that I don’t, including the aforementioned tomato.
We place a friendly wager over the contents of the dish. Luckily, at the end, the plates will be revealed so we can see who will have bragging rights.
Although I have a sweet tooth, I’m completely thrown by dessert. I’m simply unable to figure out what I’m eating, which takes away from its taste. My partner, on the other hand, enjoys it thoroughly.
After the meal, Joel leads us out to a candlelit room to help our eyes readjust before more light is subtly reintroduced.
It is said that we eat with our eyes first, but that’s what makes dining in the dark a quirky and fun experience, one that teaches you to use your other senses. Light-emitting gadgets including phones are not allowed, which means the focus is entirely on what’s happening in the moment. It’s also fascinating to discover how different your taste buds can be from someone else’s, even though you're eating the same thing.
My favourite part of the experience, though, was that those two hours in the dark enabled my partner and me to reconnect over a meal, something that is otherwise an altogether more commonplace affair.
Even after it was over, we had some fun throwing out guesses as to what our dishes contained before they were revealed. Turns out, there was no tomato in the main, but my partner did guess one of the dessert ingredients correctly, which I was sure he was wrong about, so it was a win-win.
From 8pm to 10pm, Mondays to Fridays from Wednesday, September 15; Dh249 per person; for diners aged 12 and older; reservations required; Bab Al Qasr, Corniche Road, Abu Dhabi; 056 992 2078