Experiencing New Zealand’s first Dinner in the Dark

I think it was red wine. Was it red? I savoured it more than a usual mindless guzzle.

Quietly sipping the claret, someone smelt the grapes from across the table. “Do we have wine?” they asked excitedly.

We were taking part in New Zealand’s first Dinner in the Dark at posh Auckland eatery, Vivace, as part of the city’s Restaurant Month. Over the course of two nights they are challenging diners to give up one of their senses for an evening. The event was a sellout.

The room was starved of light, diners could only rely on touch, smell, what we heard and taste – of course.

Led by the shoulder into the space by one of the friendly, visually impaired, waiters, guests were seated. Things take longer when you can’t see.

Sudden movements a bad idea, reaching for your wine glass becomes much more labour-intensive.

It wasn’t long until we could smell the plates arriving. I sensed something rich – maybe roasted? The waiter announced dinner would be served.

Placing my face close to the plate, I got a good whiff. Smell has a major role to play in how we taste after all.

Fork and knife in hand, I hesitantly poked around the bowl which I tried to cup with my hands. With no one able to see me I handled the food. Not the level of a baby smashing its first birthday cake, I caressed the meal carefully.

In what seemed to be a risotto, I found a square, solid chunk of meat in the middle of the dish. I wiped my hands off and continued with only my fork.

I noticed the weight of the cutlery, then the texture. The herbaceous punch of coriander was the first flavour, followed by the unctuous arborio.

Then came the meat, which was obviously slow-cooked. It must have been beef cheek or short rib, surely. There was a crunch too, maybe fried shallots?

At the end of the meal, chatter continued: what did we eat, how did we eat it?

People took turns remarking about the experience, sharing in dinner discourse. No social media, just talk.

Too often it seems the dining experience is ruined by phones, so while surrendering one’s sight certainly seems to be a sacrifice, it’s an experience that forces you to savour everything.

I’m still unsure of what I ate, but it was delicious.

Photo: Jeremy Toth

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