By: Shamus Sillar
I’ve eaten lots of food – kebabs, mostly – while blind drunk; I’ve never eaten a thing while blind. A night at NOX on Beach Street (just off Haji Lane) changed all that. Happily, the sightlessness was only temporary – it came courtesy of a pitch-black dining room that is the restaurant’s shining light, so to speak.
Here’s how it works. When you arrive at your designated dining time, you’ll spend the next 15 or 20 minutes in the stylish (and illuminated) lounge bar, where you can drown a couple of beers or sample a few signature cocktails; I recommend the Bird’s Eye Chilli – it’s a spicy gin-and-citrus winner.
Then comes a briefing in which you discover you’ll be eating 12 small dishes, four each of appetisers, mains and desserts; these will be served in sets of four, laid out in the shape of a cross. The idea is to eat in a clockwise fashion, starting with the dish directly in front of you at 6 o’clock, then 9 o’clock, and so on.
You’re also given an amuse-bouche in the lounge, which allows you to see what the chef is actually capable of; in the case of head chef Desmond Lee, it’s a lot. With food this good, it’s no surprise he was nominated for Chef of the Year at the recent World Gourmet Summit.
Then the fun really begins. Mobile phones, watches and any other objects capable of emitting light are put into a locker, and you move to a dark door to meet your waiter. Ours was the excellent Rahamat, who has been blind since birth. All the wait staff at NOX are blind, which makes complete sense because they’re so much more adept at functioning in darkness than the rest of us. I’m like a bull in china shop at the best of times; in the dark I’m a total klutz.
A conga line is formed with one guest putting their hands on Rahamat’s shoulders and everyone else linking up behind, and then we make our way upstairs. By the time we’re at the table, the last sliver of light from the lounge has disappeared and it is truly, utterly pitch.
Rahamat seats us, hands us the drinks that we’ve ordered, and gets us feeling around the table for our bearings (and our cutlery). Then the food starts to arrive.
What did we eat? Not telling – it would ruin the surprise. I will say this: conversation at the table at NOX revolves almost solely around guests trying to guess what they’re putting in their mouths. “Is that rice, like a risotto?” “I don’t think so. It kind of reminds me of … barley.” “But what’s the meat – pork or beef?” “Huh? I thought it was fish!” And so on.
You gain some fascinating insights at NOX; you learn a lot about your palate, and your smelling and tasting abilities, of course. But other senses are heightened too – hearing, in particular; I found myself mentally mapping out the dining room and our table in accordance with the sounds I was hearing.
Once dinner is done (ending, for us, with a flourish of four brilliant desserts), you conga your way back downstairs, where you’re given a pen and paper and tested about the meal. Then comes the big reveal, and you discover the truth of the 12 dishes through pictures and ingredient-lists on an iPad. It’s fun and fascinating – “concept dining” done right.
NOX Dine in the Dark, 269 Beach Road, Singapore 199546, 6298 0708.