Experience gourmet cuisine with the lights off at Saigon’s first-ever dine-in-the-dark restaurant. By Dana Filek-Gibson. Photo by Vinh Dao.
It takes a lot to stand out these days. From Italian eateries offering complimentary aperitifs, belly dancers in Lebanese restaurants and open kitchens where cooking is part of the experience as much as eating, everyone on the city’s restaurant scene seems to have a trick up their sleeve. But for Alexander Egert, creating a new and unexpected dining experience in Saigon was as simple as flicking a switch.
While dining in the dark is now a global phenomenon, from Berlin to Bangkok, Cape Town to Kuala Lumpur, Blackout is Saigon’s first restaurant to serve its meals with the lights off. Egert, Blackout’s owner, is still working out the kinks – the restaurant opened just last month – with only a few guests admitted at a time to ensure a quality experience, but so far the results are promising.
The journey begins in a well-lit reception area, where attendants with lacquered lockboxes collect all phones and watches. From there, one of the restaurant’s visually-impaired staff members heads up a conga line into the dining room. The darkness is instantaneous; from the moment the front door closes, diners must rely on their other senses – and, of course, the assistance of the waitstaff – to familiarise themselves with the table, feeling around for utensils and drinking glasses.
Blackout currently offers four set menus: seafood (VND 600,000), meat (VND 700,000), vegetarian (VND 500,000) and, for the adventurous eater, mystery (VND 600,000). Egert plans to regularly alter them in order to keep diners guessing.
In the dark, each course begins with a preliminary survey of the tray for the size, shape and consistency of each dish. We tried the seafood, vegetarian and mystery menus. In each, the starters offered the most innovative dishes, bringing together ingredients like passionfruit, pomegranate and corn on the vegetarian plate or, for mystery diners, brain and longan.
Mains were more familiar, with a trio of gourmet dishes for each menu. Vegetarian fennel ravioli and a scallop mousse satisfied in taste and texture, while the mystery menu proved interesting, with a surprisingly worthy blend of pig’s blood and passionfruit.
Throughout, each dish is plated effectively, allowing for easy consumption, and while the absence of sight may not heighten everyone’s other senses, it certainly manages to transform a simple dinner into a culinary adventure.