Walking toward blindekuh (blind cow) restaurant in Zürich’s hip Seefeld district, I’m wondering how this is going to work – having dinner in pitch black darkness.
Warm light spills through colourful art nouveau windows of the former chapel as I mount the steps. I find myself in a spacious foyer with a receptionist pointing me to an oversized menu on the wall.
The couple just ahead of me, Urs and Susi, turn out to be my dinner companions. Sabine, our server, appears from behind a heavy black curtain. She introduces herself as our darkroom professional and asks us to remove or shut off all items emitting light, such as cell phones or wrist watches.
Sabine is blind and, holding on to her shoulders and onto one-another, we walk at a good pace through the black curtain and into utter darkness.
Lights out—let the experience begin!
Sabine checking the seating arrangements.
I lose my apprehension about bumping into things, completely trusting Sabine. The air is cool and has a velvety feel to it. It is completely, utterly black here, not a sliver of light anywhere.
There are a few voices sounding from across the room which makes it feel spacious. Sabine stops and says we’ve arrived at our table. By feeling and touching with my hands, I sit down while Susi takes a seat right next to me and Urs across from us. During this manoeuvre and throughout the evening, we speak and laugh a lot. We share our experiences such as carefully moving our hands to find the water bottle (do you use one hand or both?); our strategies for making sure that when we pour it is into our glass; how to successfully navigate fork and food into our mouth (best achieved by eating with hands, which is frequent practice, Sabine tells us). And we also get to know each other quite well.
Wait until you’re seated, please…
More diners arrive and the table to my left gets filled. The volume in the room increases. Sabine explains that sighted people have difficulty accurately guessing distance. Am I talking louder than normal, too?
Susi, Urs and I are having a wonderfully stimulating conversation and the ease and depth with which we converse makes us feel as if we’ve known each other for a long time. The three-course dinner is excellent and after a few attempts, the soup on my spoon is delivered to destination without wasting a drop!
Chef Dirk Simon explains that blindekuh dishes are prepared with greater taste-intensity and enhancing herbs as diners can’t eat with their eyes. If we see a red strawberry, we expect to taste the sweetness that the red color indicates. Seasonal menus are prepared by his professional staff in a fully lit kitchen to the highest standards, including plate arrangement.
Sabine has been working part time at blindekuh for a few years now. The most challenging aspect for her is to remember the guest orders, she says.
Some people have difficulty finding their shoes under the table, but so far, no-one has left bare-foot. Marriage has been proposed and frequently guests completely underestimate time, thinking 25 minutes have passed when in fact it has been more than twice this duration.
The concept of a dark restaurant was devised by blind pastor Jürg Spielmann and his partners, and the Zürich restaurant opened in 1999. Blindekuh is a charitable foundation with the objective to foster dialogue and mutual understanding between sighted people and those with impaired vision. It has been honoured with numerous awards for this novel concept and copied many times across Europe from Berlin to Moscow and Paris to Hamburg.
A second restaurant operates in the city of Basel, which also features the “sicht-bar” (seeing bar) bar, lounge and an event room, all lit to provide an opportunity for more dialogue between sighted and blind people.
I experienced a truly delightful evening with excellent food, gained new hands- and palate-on insights and made new friends in the process, all the while realizing that I am quite comfortable spending extended time in darkness. In fact, Susi and I both had our eyes closed most of the time throughout the evening, while the men at our table kept them open. I wonder whether this is a gender thing?
Restaurant blindekuh offers an inspiring dining experience that puts sounds, smells, tastes, interaction and communication into a completely different light. For more information and to make advance reservation go to blindekuh’s.
Friends made over dinner in the dark.