1613 Ste. Catherine West
T: +1 514 937 9727
Brief Description: A Montréal based restaurant that brings awareness to the challenges that blind people face by serving you your meal in complete darkness.
Have you ever asked yourself, if I had to choose, would I prefer to be blind or deaf? My sister and I have talked about this extensively and we both agree that we would choose to be deaf, rather than blind. Sight is just so valuable and I think it would be extremely difficult to live without it with. Hopefully I will never actually be in either situation but, for a few hours last week, I did get a taste of what it would be like to be blind when I visited the restaurant, O.Noir.
O.Noir is a restaurant unlike any other that I have visited. The concept is that you dine in complete and utter darkness which renders you “blind” for the evening. The idea originally began in Switzerland when a blind pastor, named Jorge Spielmann, would blindfold his dinner-party guests so that they would have a better understanding of how he experienced life. The idea took off and now similar restaurants have popped up all over the world.
O.Noir is located on Montréal’s busy shopping street, Ste-Catherine Ouest. Upon entering the restaurant, you find yourself in a dimly lit vestibule. This is where all the formalities take place – you place your order with the host, order yourself a drink and lock your valuables in a locker. You are given the choice of either a two or a three course meal. I found the menu to be pretty basic but I had to remind myself that I wasn’t going to O.Noir for the quality of the food. I was going purely for the experience. After placing your order you are introduced to your waiter for the evening, who is actually blind. Admirably, the restaurant not only brings awareness to the troubles that the blind endure but it also provides employment to those who would otherwise have difficulties finding a job.
Once the formalities are out of the way, you place your hands on the shoulders of your server and you are guided into the restaurant and taken to your table. The first thing that I became aware of was just HOW dark it was in there. That sounds pretty stupid but I really hadn’t expected it to be that dark. There were no street lights, no flashlights, no exit signs – nothing but complete darkness. The second thing that I became aware was how vulnerable I felt whilst being led through the dark. I had no idea if I was going to bump into things or trip over something so it really did leave you feeling quite defenceless. We gingerly took our seats and I became aware that I automatically began using my hands to “see”. I found myself touching the table in front of me to determine how it was laid-out and reaching out to “see” where my sister was. I became increasingly aware that the mind can play funny tricks on you when you can’t use your sight to make sense of things. With nothing else to focus on, hearing became very much my focus. The sounds and voices started to become quite disorientating as I struggled to attempt to work out where other diners were seated and how the restaurant was set-out.
One of the biggest challenges lay ahead; eating. We opted for the two course meal and were given complimentary bread before our main course was served. I challenge you to try to butter bread blind-folded! By taking away sight, this simple task becomes quite challenging. I couldn’t determine if the knife was actually picking up any butter and so I found myself grasping the knife like a child (right near the blade) in order to guide it better. Our main course was served fairly quickly; I had ordered five spice fillet mignon served with potatoes and asparagus and my sister had ordered the marinated shrimp with herbs, served with dried tomato risotto. Thankfully, my steak had been pre-cut before being served but even then I could not manage to cut the damn thing into smaller pieces! The seemingly simple task of using utensils became noticeably more difficult. I had great difficulties in trying to get the food onto the fork so, more often than not, I would raise the fork to my mouth only to bite into nothing! In the end, I threw any good manners I have out the window and ate the meat with my hands. It was much easier this way and I could justify it to myself because no-one else could see my faux pas. :)
Heightened taste buds or not, I found the food to be very average. I ordered my steak medium-well but the texture of the meat suggested that it was not served the way I had ordered it. The texture of the under-cooked flesh in my mouth made it very hard for me to enjoy my meal. My sister had better luck with her shrimp risotto and because she couldn’t tell how many shrimp were in the dish, it was a bit like a lucky-dip every time she discovered a plump, hidden shrimp. For dessert, we both ordered the Viennese style chocolate cake, with vanilla ice cream and it proved itself to be a challenge to eat. Once again, trying to balance it on the fork was hard work. Most of the time I just ended up with a mouthful of empty fork prongs! Besides that though, the cake was pretty good as was the vanilla ice cream.
Once we had finished our meals and were ready to leave, our waiter guided us out of the dark and back to the bar, where we regained our sight. After our brief experience at O.Noir, I can’t help feel extremely lucky that blindness is something that I don’t have to deal with. The old saying “Walk a mile in my shoes” really rings true in this case. Once you are in that situation, you can’t help but have a better understanding of the challenges that the blind face on a day-to-day basis. For me, a simple thing like eating a meal became a complicated task so I can’t even imagine the difficulties in attempting something more complex.
Final Thoughts: If you find yourself in Montréal, looking for a dining experience like no other, then make yourself a reservation at O.Noir. This unique experience makes sitting through the very average food well worth it.