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Gilly Smith

Dining Blind

dans le noirI’ve been meaning to take my husband to Dans le Noir, the London restaurant where everyone is on a blind date.. The idea of relying on taste, smell and feel alone as I find my way through a new menu, thrills me. But perhaps more importantly, it would give me an opportunity to prod at the unconscious mind of my man.

For Jed, dining in the dark could possibly be the biggest challenge of our 19-year marriage. Our relationship is based on a vive la difference kind of philosophy; he’s an urban dandy, I’m a country girl who’s lived in the city too long. He’s trawling the back waters of the web for new music; I’m happy with Radio 1. He wears the Star of David in his earring and I drag the kids to a carol service once a year. You get the picture.

And then there’s food. I grew up in a peripatetic family where food and storytelling were the only consistent things on the table. We picked up recipes from around the world and the smells of Malaysia filled my childhood homes from Germany to South Wales. The feel of baking and making is part of my muscle memory. Jed, on the other hand, may just as well have spent his entire youth never eating a thing. His interest in food is more about the markets than the meal, the old blokes selling the bamboo rizzlas next to the durian stall rather than the custardy-onion taste of the world’s smelliest fruit. He likes stories rather than smells. And he likes his food simple.

battle of bloggers 013 So when an invitation to a Battle of the Bloggers’ blind supper party at Brighton’s Dirty Blonde popped into my inbox, I pinged back my RSVP for the two of us. In the interest of journalistic enquiry, I would drag him into the dark until his senses had nowhere to run.

Among the bloggers, he would have to be a grown up rather than the ‘primitive child’ who psychologists say would only trust the food he has seen his parent eat. Afterwards, we would ponder on the 50 year legacy of his mother’s refusal to eat with the kids, and the food terrors would flood back, finally able to find a rational, mature mind to make it ok.

So I was a bit cross when he said he was busy that night.

I would take a real child then. Ok, so Loulou at 15 is already a foodie. She works in a gastro pub on Sundays and cooks three course meals for the family without biting a lip. But she’s still a child. Surely she couldn’t be blindfolded and fed who-knew-what? without at least a squirm. If she batted an eye, I couldn’t see it.

battle of bloggers 009 To be honest, Dirty Blonde isn’t really Dans le Noir. It’s more floaty gold muslin, glitzy chic beige and Made in Chelsea bling; being seen is probably more important here than taste. That’s ok; this is Brighton after all. And inviting the city’s bloggers to be blindfolded and served a taster of their eclectic menu was a genius way of getting us to write about the food.

Course by tincey-wincey course, we were spoon-fed morsels of meat, fish, even shots of cocktails and asked to guess the secret ingredients. By the third mouthful, we had mistaken rye for ciabatta, Southern Comfort for vodka and were heading for six courses of meatballs, scallops and an Asian fusion salmon that were designed to trip up the blind.

Loulou and I couldn’t even chat with our blindfolds on, let alone guess at the bacon jam and tomato concasse sweetening the scallops. We had been disabled, deliberately confused and dumbed on every level.battle of bloggers 021

But it was fun. We tried to remember the name of that smoky, gooey vegetable… ‘AUBERGINE! ‘ .. and fell about as we waded through grassy herbs before landing on fennel. Actually, it was sage.

But isn’t that that what eating out is all about? Playing with the senses? Having a laugh? If it’s about spotting the truffle oil in your macaroni cheese, kill me now.

So we couldn’t tell our mirin from our Furi Kaki. So what?

Will we go back? Probably not. Come on; Terre a Terre and Indian Summer are next door. But will I tell people about dining in the dark at Dirty Blonde? Yup. Will I go to Dans le Noir? Yup. Will I take my husband? No way. I’ve got a new dining companion who, after a childhood of making and baking, is happy to play with her food. What have you got for us next then?


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