Dans Le Noir? 30-31 Clerkenwell Green, London EC1

"It's just the thing for Hallowe'en," grated the Independent Magazine's top brass, in their don't-even-bother-arguing way. "Instead of reviewing a normal restaurant, where people eat a romantic meal with knives and forks in discreet lighting, you'll go to that place where everyone dines in spooky total darkness, you'll think you've gone blind and you'll pour red wine down your front. Shut the door on your way out."

I remember reading about Dans Le Noir? (how irritating is that question mark?) when it opened, in 2006. All the restaurant critics said the concept was ridiculous and the food atrocious. Was it still going? Amazingly, it was – and I learned that its sister restaurant in Paris is still packing in punters, every night. What could be the attraction? I found the answer, eventually.

You start in a dimly-lit bar area with lockers for coats and bags but nowhere to sit. It's almost militantly sparse and comfortless. Six of us went into the gloom in single-file, our right hands clutching the shoulders of the people in front, like that picture in the Imperial War Museum, of soldiers blinded by mustard gas. Steering us in was Naia, a waitress with a degenerative eye complaint; the serving staff here are all blind or partially-sighted; they're used to finding their way around dark rooms.

Inside the swishy curtains, the darkness is a real shock. It has a quality, like black air. Voices, apparently amplified, chuckle and chat around you as if it's quite normal to be in a dark room with 30-odd strangers. It's hard not to feel paranoid, as if you're the blundering new kids in town, surrounded by mocking locals and finding it hard to acclimatise. Angie and I held hands across the table, as we tried to establish the whereabouts of plates, cutlery, glasses, vase of flowers ... It took me a few seconds to realise the basic inutility of a vase of flowers in such a place. Within four minutes of arriving, I was dying to leave.

I moved my hand an inch to the right and discovered the sleeve of a chap's leather jacket, with an arm inside it. Sorry, I said. "No problem," he said. Do you, I asked, come here often? "First time," he said. "But it's our third date." Across the dark table, his companion issued a girlish rebuke. Things improved. The wine arrived, and I measured it into our glasses by the expedient of pouring it over my fingers. We talked to the neighbours, John and Atasha, about music and food. She'd just finished a law degree and wanted to specialise in family law. He's a drugs rep with an ambition to be a dentist, and ...

You want to know about the food? The food is ridiculous. In the bar, before entering the darkness, you choose either the red menu (meat), the blue (fish), the green (veggie) or the white (surprise!). The result is something between a tease (think Kim Basinger being fed titbits while blindfolded in 9 Weeks) and a torture. Only when it's all over and you're back in the bar do they reveal what you were eating (with photos.) You soon realise it's hopeless to use a knife and fork, and you must use your fingers. In anticipation, the food is served tepid – but, perversely, it isn't finger food. Picking up slithery, gloopy ravioli and dabbling your fingers in tepid mushroom sauce is no fun. Nor is the contemptuous way the "cooks" throw stuff randomly on the plate. Here's the Meat Course starter: some baked goat's cheese alongside bread-sticks wrapped in pancetta. Here's out-of-season, flavourless asparagus, a bacon-flavoured Cheesy Wotsit (later described a "lardon") and the single slimy ravioli. I stuffed it all in my mouth, feeling like Barbara Cartland at a bush-tucker trial. It was uniquely repellent.

Mains were even worse. A slab of terribly bland meat and a bread-crumbed parcel of something underneath – was it a Turkey Twizzler? Were they having a laugh? The news, later, that I'd allegedly enjoyed veal Milanese, pan-fried breast of duck and roasted venison with chicory and walnuts sounded the purest fiction. Duty insisted I had a pudding, which was a surprisingly okay, if too-sweet, lemon posset surrounded by little fruit tarts and chocolate petits fours.

There was one positive feature. Empowered by the darkness, we got on with our neighbours like a domestic inferno. Using my Sherlockian skills, I deduced that John was a short, bulky West Country chap in a sports jacket, and Atasha was a Sloane Ranger with surprisingly trashy long nails (I could hear them). Outside in the light, they turned out to be an Afro-Caribbean couple, six-feet tall and slender, like Calvin Klein models. We retired to a cocktail bar for an hour. And that seemed the only point of Dans le Noir – to make unexpected friends in the gloom. Otherwise it's hard not to feel it's the most shameless (and expensive) gustatory illusion since the Feeding of the 5,000.

Dans Le Noir? 30-31 Clerkenwell Green, London EC1 (020-7253 1100)

Food 1 starsAmbience 1 starsService 2 stars

About £120 for two with wine

Tipping policy: "No service charge; all tips go to the guides"

Side Orders: Monster munch

Garlic and Shots

Keep away the vampires with a 'Bloodshot' cocktail and a 'Transylvania vampire steak' with garlic sauce at this themed eatery.

14 Frith Street, London W1 (020-7734 9505)

The Witchery

This opulent restaurant serves accomplished cooking in decadent, gothic surroundings. The destination for upmarket vamps.

The Royal Mile, Edinburgh (0131-225 5613)

The Hellfire

The 'fine food to die for' at this horror-themed restaurant includes a Severed Finger Platter with ribs, meatballs and potato skins (£9.95).

Queens Road, Manchester (0161-277 9346)

Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game