Most foodies would agree that a great meal is a multi-sensory experience. In addition to taste and smell, sight plays a leading role in whetting the appetite. What would a dining experience be like if you couldn’t see your food? Blackout, the dark restaurant at the Nalagat Center in Jaffa, like nine others dispersed throughout the world, sets out to ‘shed light’ on the concept of darkness through a pitch black restaurant dining experience with blind servers as your guides.
The Blackout experience begins in a fully lit lobby with a pre-dinner cocktail and a menu to peruse. Diners have a choice to make: select 3 dishes (a starter, main and dessert) from the list, or opt for the ‘surprise’ menu, which changes daily.
When push came to shove Idan turned out to be the more adventurous among us and opted for the unknown. (Even with Chef Erik Lupo at the helm - Lupo worked under avant-garde Chef Nir Tzuk’s as sous chef - fears of especially ‘acquired tastes’ were allayed by the restaurant’s kosher dairy status.) I selected the endive boats filled with ceviche as my starter, salmon with potato and sweet potato gratin for the main and chocolate mousse with nougat for dessert. Our selections were meticulously recorded in a chart by the host.
After a little too long in the lobby (the previous service had run a bit over), guests started being escorted into the dark space in twos and fours. When our names were called we excitedly moved forward into a dimly lit antechamber. There, our waiter Eliran introduced himself and explained what was to come. With hands on each others shoulders we were guided into the darkness. It was a black so pitch that the first hit of it was almost claustrophobic. But then, even though our eyes didn’t adjust, we started to feel more comfortable.
After clumsily sitting down, Eliran taught us how to pour ourselves water without flooding the table, advised us to simply call out his name if we needed anything and then tinkled off (the waiters wear bells so as not to sneak up on you).
After the bread bowl (a rather safe food for the first-time sightless) Eliran arrived with our starters. Idan’s surprise was apple and warm vegetable anti pasti salad. Or at least we think it was. I helped determine it was most certainly apple rather than Idan’s first guess of pear. My endive boats were quite tasty and the perfect little finger foods in what I was quickly turning into a very tactile experience.
By the second course Idan was getting ready to smack my wandering hands away from his plate. What I lacked in sight I was most certainly overcompensating for in feel, turning my delicious potato and sweet potato gratin into a most inappropriate finger food and breaking my herb crusted salmon filet into bite sized pieces. (I think it might be true that food tastes better without the interference of utensils). Meanwhile, Idan had taught himself to get the food (in this case what I think was a pan fried filet of a white sea fish - possibly sea bream or corvina in Moroccan spices) into his mouth using a fork. We also really enjoyed the apple, pear and cinnamon sorbet, a surprise palate cleanser served between the first and second courses.
As riveting as the experience was, the complete darkness was starting to make us sleepy. Our fraternal twin mousses came just in time to save the day with a sugar rush. Mine was a rich chocolate which tasted milky, but without any colour indicator I couldn’t tell you for sure how dark a chocolate was used. I can say that it was no less than finger licking good. Idan’s white chocolate mousse with nectarine and nougat crunch was equally decadent and divine.
Setting the mousses aside, we called out our waiter’s name, ready to move back into the light. As un-traditional a dining experience as this may have been, it was also unparalleled life experience. I look forward to returning with some first timer friends in tow.
Dinner is served in 2 seatings, the first at 18:30, the second at 21:00 on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The restaurant is kept busy the rest of the week with private events booked during both day and evening for up to 40 people.
Retsif Haaliya Hashniya, Jaffa Port, Tel Aviv