My gay BFF, who went to Nox with his partner, said to me, “When I realized the blind servers live their lives in complete darkness and have no choice, I cried. It’s not the same as just shutting your eyes. I emotional person hor. Don’t judge.”
This “dine in the dark” concept was first developed in France in 1997 for people to understand what the visually impaired go through – a lesson that my BFF learnt. Furthermore, dining in the dark heightens other senses so that we can appreciate the food better. The food, by Chef Desmond Lee who worked at Ember and Private Affairs, changes frequently so customers can often return. Although the 3-course menu, priced at $78++, is fixed for most customers, the chef will adjust the food for people with special dietary requirements. Please inform the staff during reservations or before the meal.
The only area where you can take photos! As you enter the restaurant, the staff will sit you at the lounge and explain the concept. At the lounge, get cocktails from Alex, the talented young bartender formerly from Bar Stories. The cocktails, at $20 each, are so cheeky: “The Concubines,” “Jealousy Looms,” and the poking-fun-at-the-emo, “Last Christmas – All I want for Christmas is you.”
I had the Skippy Dip–I read as “skinny dip” at first, Freudian slip—a sweet, delicious cocktail with peanut butter, foamy milk with peanut bits. Be prepared for a sexy Got Milk? mustache. Chiobu had a Don’t Tell Eve (naturally referring to Adam and Eve) which was a fun and zesty cocktail of pomelo and orange. Both cocktails were very well-balanced and delicious. Definitely must-order.
Here, after you’re served the amuse bouche, you’ve to put your handphone, camera, and all devices that produce light in a locker. LOVE IT! Dining without handphones. That should be the way.
What you’ll see in the dining room: infra-red CCTV and nothing.
At the entrance of the dining area, a visually impaired guide will introduce himself or herself to you. Ours is named Rahamat whose voice is mellifluous. He led us to the pitch-black dining area with our hands on his shoulder, forming a conga line. (Hey, Gloria Estefan!)
Different people will have different reactions. My BFF was moved to tears; Chiobu was scared; my senses were disoriented because my eyes were open but I couldn’t see anything. Don’t need to be frightened: there are safety precautions in case there is a fire, and there is an infra-red CCTV (no hanky-panky, lovers!). And if you feel giddy like me, just close your eyes.
And different people deal with fear differently. (Cue the original hipster George Lam’s Guinness ad: “你怕黑吗？哪你不是白白的活着?”) The table next to us chose to talk loudly to overcome their fear. Chiobu needed me to talk constantly despite my sore throat. Since I wasn’t scared of darkness, I was quite relaxed. (I was relaxed partly because I didn’t need to take photos of food. YES!) But if you feel distressed, just call for your server to bring you back to the lounge for a while.
Another thing to note is the placement of the cutlery. You’ve to pour water yourself–put your finger in the glass as you pour to prevent overflow–and remember to place the bottle back to the center of the table. The food is served in 4 small bowls on a wooden platter. Lift the bowl to your mouth as you eat and place the bowl back in the platter. Chiobu said, “They should show us photos of the unglam way we eat in the dark.”
Each course–starter, main and dessert–comes with 4 tasting portions of different food, making it a variety of 12 different dishes. The server won’t tell you what the food is, you’ve to eat and guess yourself.
For starter, we managed to guess 3 out 4 correctly. Go, Team RERG. Chiobu’s favorite was the scallop pasta, infused with truffle oil, textured like glass noodles, with explosive flavor, while mine was the bamboo clams, because of its nice chewy bite and because we couldn’t guess this correctly.
For the mains, it was another 3/4 for us. The duck was fantastic, skin as crackling as pork belly. So was the cod fish, fresh, sweet and well-marinated in miso. We couldn’t quite appreciate the ribeye (needed to be fresher) and the gristly rump.
For desserts, we got 4/4, bringing us a total 10/12. We even managed to guess the exact fruit in the dessert! Our love for desserts, regardless of impeding diabetes, paid off! Chiobu’s favorite–which was dubious to me–was the chocolate fondant. It was over-baked, slightly charred and had no molten chocolate but Chiobu said, “Just treat it like a brownie lah, and the burnt aroma was so pleasing.” Warped but sensible logic since we didn’t know what we were eating and could treat it as anything we liked. But the pear tart was fantastic, its pastry crust so crisp as if it was deep-fried.
After you finish and get your server to lead you back to the lounge, the staff will give you a form to fill in and guess the food you’ve eaten. (I also think this is their smart way of getting feedback to see if the food has tricked us or if they need to up the ante.) Then the staff will explain and show you photos of food you’ve eaten.
Being an anti-establishment rebel, I normally avoid gimmicky restaurants but having experienced Nox, I strongly encourage everyone to go. It was educational; the service was impeccable; dining here can be considered as helping disenfranchised fellow humans; the darkness and no handphone policy create a social ambience where people can talk honestly and freely; and even the hypercritical Chiobu said the food was good. We guessed the set meal would cost $68+, and we later found out it was priced at $78++, so the pricing was rather reasonable. All these factors point to a promising beginning of a longstanding establishment.
Rating: 3.500/5 stars in the night.
ps: Thanks Natasha for the invite.
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.