4.5 out of 5 stars
What to eat: Everything set before you.
What to wear: No white clothes and no heels, so you don’t trip.
Restaurant reviews as they stand do not apply to this ‘Dine in the Dark’ concept; to give a blow-by-blow account of the experience would be like sitting through a movie with that companion who can’t stop offering up spoilers.
The ground-floor bar at Nox |
We went into this Arab Quarter shophouse restaurant knowing only three things: we will be dining in darkness, it will be a – no choice – three-course modern European meal ($88++ per person), and we will be served by visually-impaired individuals. In our case, we were served by the gentle Rahamadulla "Rahamad" Mohamed, who lost his sight ten years ago after undergoing a brain operation. Like most of Nox’s crew of servers, he answered an ad placed by Nox at the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped.
We started our experience at this socially-minded restaurant seeing vividly.
At the dimly-lit ground-floor bar of Nox that accommodates 25 people. We had no trouble noticing the brown-and-white chess-formation tiles on the floor; debated sitting on the raven-black (or could it be dark brown?) bar seats that leaned against the shingled (seven, to be exact) bar counter walls, or settle on the plush grey banquette seats. We took our time reading the nine-page drinks menu listing colourful, playful, cocktails (ten of them, $25 each), general house pours ($10-20 each), and nine wines by the glass ($15-19), among others.
The vibe was made more routine with electro-house-dance music blasting through the speakers.
There were no visually impaired waiters in contact on the ground floor yet. The cocktails turned out to be a premature order at this point - our tastebuds were thrown off by the strong flavours. We wouldn't recommend opting for the wine pairing either: at $30-40 per person, the mismatched pairings do not add much value to the meal - the meal experience itself will be plenty valuable.
In the dim bar light, we started with a bold, appetite-whetting amuse bouche of balsamic-marinated watermelon, half a prawn cooked in butter, feta cheese and fricasse salad piled onto a spoon. A good (and light) start by chef Desmond Lee (formerly of Restaurant Ember and Private Affairs).
"Unused to the lack of light, we fumbled about as we felt our way for the cutleries. Almost on cue, the waiter informed us that we could leave at any moment, if we felt uncomfortable."
In the darkness against the backdrop of light instrumental music, it was easy to feel like we were the only three diners, but there were 57 other diners in the room; two tables spoke in whispered tones (the lack of light has this effect), and one very excited group of, what sounded like wet-market aunties, out to have some boisterous fun.
Unused to the lack of light, we fumbled about as we felt our way for the cutleries. Almost on cue, Rahamad informed us that we could leave at any moment, if we felt uncomfortable. Far from it, we were having too much fun adjusting to the new environment.
We took in the meal as it came, slowly picking up on the difference in temperatures (appetiser), identifying some of the weakest aromas (main), tasting the smallest pinches of spices (main), and catching on to textures with the tiniest grooves (dessert).
We got some ingredients right, and, of course, some wrong – watch out for the tricky last component of the first course. Rahamad said he believed that everyone is born to use all their senses equally, but when you lose one, the others heighten to make up for it, just as his did. And ours, too.
Perspectives also change when we have to put ourselves completely in the hands of a stranger. Admittedly, this vulnerability made us a little nervous, though Rahamad's constant (and uncannily timely) presence helped.
|The Rubus Pink signature cocktail | |
Photo: Nox - Dine in the Dark
At the end, the dishes, in their glorious colours and presentation, were revealed to us. This is the best time to raise a signature cocktail – the creamy, peanut-butter Skippy Dip ($25) comes best off the dessert course, and off our renewed appreciation for our aural, visual and tactile senses.
Though a three-hour blind dining experience only allows us to understand a fraction of the impact the loss of sight might have on one's life, never has a meal allowed us to see and use our senses of taste and touch so clearly. And the service, it's the best we've encountered, here and in the world.
Celine Asril is guilty of taking pictures before tucking in to all her meals; this experience had her sitting out of her comfort zone. Photo-taking helps deal with the job – this editor of HungryGoWhere never sits down to two of the same meals in a week so her memory needs any help it can get. Need proof? Follow her work twitter feed at @HungryGoWhere.