Thursday, 19 July 2012

Endless Adventures in Groupon: The dark restaurant

Last night Sarah and I tried out another Groupon deal. This was one that we'd both been looking forward to for aaaaaaaaaaaaggggggggggggeeeeeeeeeessssss. Seriously, ages. And that's even with everyone we know telling us that it's abysmal; the food sucks, that it's just for the tourists, that it's all just an expensive gimmick. But you know, when you fancy trying something for yourself, sometimes it doesn't matter what 40 independent reviewers say, you still want to give it one bad star rating yourself.

Pink Vespa on the way to the restaurant, the wrong restaurant.

So last night was the night. Sarah was in charge of printing out the voucher and bringing it with her (not that I'm saying anything about when we went on our Die Welt hot air balloon trip...) and I was in charge of getting myself there on time. A task that I am spectacularly bad at. I gave myself an hour to get from my apartment across town to Noctivagus on Saarbruecken Strasse in Prenzlauerberg. Anyway, I made it with time to spare and probably a smug look on my face. I even had some time to take a few photos of things that caught my eye in the surrounding area. And then I sauntered back along to the restaurant and called Sarah who told me she was waiting for me. "Where? Are you in the Hof?", "Hof? What Hof?"......"Oh.You.Are.Kidding...."

Example of the kind of street art you can see 1km away from the right restaurant.

Because, you see, I hadn't seen the voucher or looked at the deal on Groupon, or even considered that there might be more than one dunkel restaurant in Berlin. So while I was outside Noctivagus, Sarah was about a kilometre away outside a bar/restaurant called 'Unsicht' on Gormannstrasse. Manno!.... 

Anyway, let's bypass the sweaty race across Prenzlauerberg, and get on with it. You enter into a bar which has rather nice subtle, low lighting. We were told to sit and wait for our waiter Ben who would tell us what to expect and take us through to our table. While we waited we chose our menu, both of us opting for vegetarian (honestly, I wouldn't trust that I wasn't just eating pigs eyeballs if I went for the meat option, and given what we'd heard about the food, vegetables seemed safer). You don't get to know what you're going to be eating as this is all part of the 'experience'. We also had a look at the drinks list, as we rightly suspected we wouldn't be able to read it at the table.

Cream dress: the perfect choice for not showing you've missed your mouth.
Then Ben, our waiter, came out and told us in his extremely handsome way (honestly, he was lovely looking! We were both quite taken by the lovely Ben) how we would get to our table - by forming a chain holding onto his shoulders, and how we were to turn off any illuminated devices we might have, and how we could call his name if we needed him (or just wanted to touch him in the dark :-D - my thoughts, not his words), and then we were off.

You enter the restaurant through a series of zigzags, the light disappearing more and more with each bend until you feel yourself weaving between tables in the total pitch black. You hear the clink of glasses all around, a general level of chatter from the guests, and in amongst all of this you hear the clicks of the waiters navigating their way from the kitchen to the tables. Have you heard of this technique that blind people can learn? Or as Wikipedia calls it, 'human echolocation' whereby you can sense where objects are by making a sound and sensing where the soundwaves are bouncing back.

Once we were seated we soon had our drinks and were getting used to being in the pitch black. Although they do try and get you to gain an understanding of what it's like to be blind by bringing you your drink in the bottle and handing you a glass to pour it into. Fun, huh? Having spent a good chunk of my post-Hamish's-birth time unable to see, this wasn't a problem for me. Not that I poured it effortlessly from bottle to glass with the finesse of someone who laughs in the face of changing dirty nappies blind, no: I simply drank from the bottle!

Our first course was soup. I guessed it was um... vegetable. It smelt like kind of homemade vegetable soup, but not overwhelmingly of any one particular vegetable. It was nice enough to be honest, and had the added interest of having what seemed like shredded wheat at the bottom. We got to look at the menu once the meal was over and we were back in the dimly lit bar and it turned out to be pea soup with shredded snow peas (which I've had to Google to find out that these are in fact mange tout).

The bar area. 

Ben was soon back to have a good feel of our hands and take our bowls away. Every so often you would hear someone swiping their drink off the table and the glass clattering off the floor, and while we waited for our mains, there was a huge crash of dishes which was presumably one waiter banging into another and dropping everything, which made me wonder how they went about clearing up spills during service. 

Our main course was a bit of a mystery at first. Sarah quickly found the tofu, while I seemed to be ploughing through quite a large pile of raw pepper. I had a quick feel of the tofu (I mostly ate my main with my fingers, after all no one could see me) and decided that I didn't want it. Tofu is for me like a kebab. I've never had it, but I have no desire to try it either. So I moved on to  the roasting hot cherry tomato in the middle of my plate. Yum. I had wondered if they really bothered about presentation with the food, or whether they served up like I do for two hungry kids who are so desperate to get their food that I just fling it on with a giant spoon. But I think they do take some care. The only item that confused us was the risotto which I thought (using my spidey-senses i.e. fingers) was lentils. Yes, I did stroll my fingers through a risotto and then lick them. And yes, I did slightly taste the pole I'd been holding onto on the u-bahn...ack! gack! Anyway, this course turned out to be tofu stroganoff with a cheese risotto. (no mention of the big pile of pepper).

A sneaky peek at the menu. I hope it changes all the time or I've just ruined the experience for you. Oops.
After another all too brief feel of Ben, we were on to dessert. We had a long wavy shaped plate with a little ceramic pot on it filled with what we rightly guessed was a coffee mousse. In fact it was a white coffee mousse, but we couldn't see that detail. Beside it we had a stamp-sized something that was like the best chocolatey caramel shortbread you have ever tried, and if I'd got to that first I would have felt my way across the table and stolen Sarah's off her plate before she knew she had it. Finally, beside the little pot of coffee mousse I dug my fingers through what Sarah thought was trifle, but what tasted like custard and the strongest sourest kiwi fruit jus you could imagine. According to the menu it was a mango-chilli sauce that was making my right hand all sticky. They do give you spoons incidentally, it's just I like to be able to identify my food before I put it in my mouth. Call me a nervous eater... or just plain lacking in table manners, I don't mind. 

And with that we were done. And while it seemed like the evening had just flown by with barely a gap between courses, it turned out that we along with another couple of women were the last people in the restaurant. We all formed a chain and made our way back into the bar where we discovered it was midnight and the rest of the waiting staff were finished up, having a drink at the bar and getting ready to leave. We left, both delighted with our experience after a thoroughly enjoyable night. Of course, we are both brilliant company, and witty conversationalists, so that was probably what made it so good. 

Nah, who am I kidding? We both came away thinking that having a lovely handsome man to grapple plates off of in the dark was, well, delicious!

Unsicht-bar (Germany's First Dark Restaurant):

or try the one I went to first...
Noctivagus (Berlin's First Dark Restaurant);

My other Groupon adventures:
Panoramapunkt - sightseeing from the top of Kollhof Tower.
Die Welt hot air balloon - sightseeing from Berlin's famous hot air balloon
Loxx Miniatur Welten - Mini Berlin with trains in the Alex shopping centre
Like I just stepped out of a salon - getting a Groupon haircut - eek

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