Alchemy – dinner in the dark

The concept of dining in the dark is not a new one, yet not everyone has the fortune of traveling to Paris or London and having the opportunity to try the Dans le Noir restaurants. They have however been the inspiration for French Creation Group‘s opening of Hong Kong’s very own dinner in the dark experience! Opened just last week, Alchemy is located where Taboo once stood on Arbuthnot Road, and is on two levels – the ground level features a modern and inviting bar area, and cozy lounge seating areas, complete with lush velvet chairs and shelves lined with books – a library of alchemist’s secrets! The entrance area is lined with mock medicine drawers to reinforce the theme.

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Alchemy - Entrance 2 - HDWhen you arrive, someone will explain the experience to you, and the dos and don’ts of dining in the dark. You can either opt for a 3 course dinner with bottled water only at HK$500, or add three wine pairings for an additional HK$200. You will have to leave your bag and belongings in a locker before you sit – for the moment there has been a small oversight with making the lockers only big enough to hold a clutch handbag, but that will be rectified. Each table will have one waiter to guide you and serve you through your meal. The are fully aware of the entire layout of the restaurant and can navigate it perfectly, memorise all of your names, giving clear instructions on who to pass the plate to, which direction the water and the wine is coming from, and personally escorting you to the bathroom if needed. And they are all visually impaired.

As far as the guides are concerned, this is a restaurant that gives back to the community – five percent of the restaurants profits go to the Hong Kong Society of the Blind. With no service charge, we tipped directly, and generously.

Once you have been given the low down on the dinner, you are lead through a series of blackout curtains to your table. To preserve the experience for all of you, I will not do what a food blogger is always itching to do, which is tell you every little detail about what we ate – I don’t want to ruin the surprise or give anything away – what made this meal interesting was the sensory response to every aspect of it. However I do have some photos for you …

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To Start: a mixture of nervousness, caution, with a side of realisation that you really do need sight to be able to use a knife and fork properly …

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Main course: You have finally managed to get the hang of a fork, but knives are so impractical in the dark! Be prepared for some surprisingly large mouthfuls of food …

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Dessert: You’re finally getting the hang of it! Then you realise that the little red dots on the ceiling might be cameras – for security, and also so that the chef can see when you have nearly finished your course so he can prepare the next one. He must see some pretty amusing stuff on that footage!

If you are looking for a completely new and interesting dining experience, then this is something that must be done at least once! This is a dinner where presentation and plating goes out the window! The chef must create distinctions with everything else – different tastes, textures, temperatures and mouth feels, all on one plate.

I went with a group of close friends, and it is very intriguing to experience how our interactions and conversations were affected by being shrouded in darkness. In this sense, dining with different groups of friends can result in very different experiences. Here, the focus is not only on the food, or the wine, but also on the shared experience of being deprived of sight, and how that effects each person individually and communally. Personally, I was quite nervous as we descended down the stairs into the darkness, but over time I was distracted by the food and that initial eery feeling went away. Guessing all the food that you’re eating was super fun, and quite proudly, PB and I got most of it right! Yay!

On a communal level, trying to talk over each other just did not work, it is hard to concentrate on more than one voice at a time. I found that I really listened to every word that was said – and there are no mobile devices to serve as distractions. There are no visual distractions either – I know that I am not the only one guilty of sometimes glazing over what a friend is saying whilst concentrating on a different thought in my head (oooh, I love her dress … I wonder what they’re eating on that table over there? … should I tell her she has something in her teeth?). A one-on-one dinner with a friend or your loved one might end up being one of your most memorable conversations – ironically there is a sense of intimacy and closeness in the dark. Moments of silence are not awkward, but slightly creepy – are we all just staring devoid of thought into the darkness, has everyone just left the table without telling you, is someone picking their nose?

A few tips before you go to Alchemy:

♥ Don’t wear light colours, or silk. You might find yourself eating a bit messily!
♥ Don’t bring any valuables to the restaurant, everything must go in a locker and not into the dining room with you. You can keep your watches in your pockets.
♥ Wash your hands well before you enter the dining room – they very well may be your utensils for the evening.

Alchemy

Address: 16 Arbuthnot Road, Central, Hong Kong

Tel: 6821 2801

Opening times: Alchemy in the dark is only open for dinner, however Alchemy Lounge is open for lunch and dinner.

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3 thoughts on “Alchemy – dinner in the dark

  1. Pingback: The Dark Side of the Spoon: The Gustatory Experience of Eating in a Blind Dining Restaurant

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