Sunday, December 07, 2014

Blind Dining in London – what an experience!

Blind Dining is about to hit London in a big way.  As part of the first ever London Without Limits Festival, dining while bindfolded aims to stimulate the senses and enchance eating, while supporting RLSB  - the Royal London Society for Blind People.  The aim of the festival is to provide a range of sensory and sociable events to help the RLSB defeat the lonely reality of childhood sight loss.

Across the course of the next week, guests at the stunningly contemporary Island Grill bar and restaurant at Lancaster London have the chance to try dining in the dark and Luxuria was invited down to an exclusive preview to  give our verdict on what was a truly surreal experience.

On arrival, you’ll be shown to your seat and given an information pack and of course, your blindfold.  You can either choose what you’d like to eat from their extensive menu, or as we did, leave it up to the brilliant team to decide on your behalf (which I think makes it all a little bit more fun!).

The food at Island Grill is seasonal, fresh and inspired by British produce.  Starters include Devonshire Crab, Pork Belly and slow cooked creamy Courgette and Artichoke Risotto, while the main a la carte menu caters for all tastes with Roast Suffolk Chicken, Seafood Bucatini and a selection of steaks.

There’s also beautiful views over Hyde Park, although this isn’t something we were here to see.  Blindfolds on, we eagerly awaited our starters while the wine was poured and we got used to our surroundings.  Our waitress explained where everything was – fork to the left, knife to the right, water in the middle.  Wine glass to the side of the water glass, which is by the knife!  It’s  actually amazing how quickly you adapt.  By the time we got to mains, my friend Sylwi was actually pouring water for the both of us!  Other observations we made in the first 20 minutes of being blindfolded included feeling a little colder than usual – perhaps because we couldn’t see any lighting or candles around us… And it was extraordinary at how we could pick out the sounds around us too  – much more exaggerated and intense.  I almost felt as it I was eavesdropping on the conversation going on between a couple on the table behind us!

Our starters arrived and were placed in front of us (so we were told anyway!)   Seconds later, the delicious smells started to waft through the air to our noses.  We had cheated a little with this course by deciding what to order, so we did know what was coming… However what we weren’t aware of was how difficult it was to put together a forkful  of what was on our plates and successfully shovel it into our mouths without dropping any!  I had opted for the Ricotta and Herb Ravioli with a wild mushroom sauce.  Great strong flavours to get started with and an absolutely beautiful tasting dish.  Sylwi went for the Salt and Pepper Calimari – slightly easier to eat than my dish I thought!

Onto our mains and we allowed our knowledgeable waitress to make a choice on our behalf.  I asked for meat, Sylwi asked for fish.  This would be the real test as we’d have to use our tastebuds alone to work out what we were eating.  Ever tried to cut a piece of lamb without looking?  Tricky stuff, but from the first mouthful, (which I realised was huge – I had no concept of what I’d cut!),  I worked out what kind of meat it was.  Also interestingly, I ate all of the fat on the lamb which I’d normally avoid – who knew it was packed with so much flavour?!  What I couldn’t work out was what the sauce was made of.  A thick-ish consistency, tangy, sweet and sour at the same time and extremely more-ish.  We were told later it was a warm baba ganoush made with aubergines, garlic and lemon juice.  Again a really good choice for blind dining because it was so packed with flavour and it’s quite interesting trying to work out which taste is which.
Sylwi recognised instantly that she had salmon.  A fillet to be exact, in a saffron consommé with spinach, potato, brown shrimp and tomato.

Dessert I have to say, was my favourite dish to eat blindfolded.  I knew immediately that I had bannoffee cheesecake – the consistency of which was a giveaway in itself.  Fresh banana, soft cream cheese and the best biscuit base I’ve tasted on a cheesecake in a long time.  Turns it out it was hobnob – yum!  Sylwi had the Café Latte Crème Brulee which she now proclaims is her favourite dessert ever.  It came with a huge amaretti biscuit on the side, but she didn’t actually know it was there until we took our blindfolds off!  It went fantastically well with my muscat dessert wine – again a delight to drink while blind dining because the flavours are so sweet and delicious and exaggerated in the dark. 

We’re not sure if it was down to the fantastic food, or down to the experience, (I’m thinking perhaps both), but our meal at Island Grill felt really special.  I think we appreciated every taste of our dinner that little bit more and I feel especially lucky to have my full eyesight, when living in darkness is the norm for so many people.

You must try it for yourself.  Blind dining experiences are available at Island Grill until September 29th.  There’s also a number of other restaurants supporting the RLSB as are designers Giles Deacon, Wayne Hemingway and Lisa King who have designed a special set of limited edition blindfolds.


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