Seven years since its inception, Dine in the Dark (DID) Phnom Penh is still thriving with customers who wish to experience an extraordinary journey of sensory awareness. The dining room itself is pitch black and you don’t know what you’re eating until after you are done with your meal. Does the thought scare you? Or does it excite? Intrigued, Anith Adilah Othman tip-toes into the fine dining restaurant on Street 19 recently.
FROM the outside, there is nothing too striking about ‘Dine in the Dark’ (DID). It is nestled in between massage parlours and dive bars along Street 19, with a simple modern decor and a diminutive signboard that reads its name. In fact, it is possible that you might have passed by this small establishment without even noticing what it is and what type of experience it offers.
DID is a fine dining restaurant like no other, literally. There are no lights inside this restaurant. It offers customers the chance to experience a surprise menu without seeing them, thereby heightening your non-visual senses in a playful and elegant way.
But how will the food be served when it’s pitch black, you asked?
Well, there are a few steps to be followed. First, you will be asked to make your order at the well-lit lounge area on the ground floor, before proceeding to the first floor where the ‘magic’ actually unfolds. When the food is almost ready, customers will be assigned to one out of the three visually-impaired waiters who are well-versed with the layout of the restaurant.
Do not even think of posting your #foodporn on Instagram as the service team will take away all electronic and light-emitting devices and store them in a special box while you dine in complete darkness. This is to ensure the room remains the way it was meant to be — at all times.
After dining, patrons will be ushered down to the ground floor where the content of each dish is revealed, long after the dining experience. This, according to DID, creates an enjoyable and fun culinary guessing game.
While the main focus of DID is the experience itself, the restaurant does not compromise on the quality of the food. It offers a choice of four 3-course surprise menus — Khmer, International, Vegetarian and the Chef’s Monthly Selection – featuring a wild combination of tastes and textures.
The menus are carefully and jointly designed by the experienced team and Michelin-starred Chef Nick Medhurst, and they are revised once every three months to retain the ‘surprise’ element. Upon requests, DID can prepare vegan and gluten-free menus and accommodate dietary requirements, in case of mild allergies.
Aside from providing an extraordinary dining experience, DID also has a social purpose. In collaboration with Mith Samlanh — Friends Organisation, it offers the visually-impaired well-remunerated employment opportunities which are otherwise all too rare in Cambodia.
It also empowers the visually-impaired by training them to take on a fast-paced front-of-the-house role to showcase their hospitality and language skills. “This helps build confidence,” one of the waiters, Borey, said.
Through a role-reversal experience, DID also helps raise awareness on the capabilities of the workforce, in spite of their disabilities. You will also find that all members of the DID service team are fluent in Khmer and English.
As I climbed the spiral staircase to get to the first floor, my waiter, Borey Sun, asked me to place both hands on his shoulders so he can guide me better. For a nyctophobic, like myself, this can be quite a nerve-wracking experience but the waiters at DID are trained to comfort the patrons as they make the transition from bright light to complete darkness.
“Okay now we are entering the dining area. Grab on tight, I will show you to your seats,” Borey Sun, 25, said as I felt thick curtains brushing against my shoulders, indicating what I guess was the entrance.
It was pitch black, I could not even see my own hands. I struggled to find the chair as Borey’s voice broke the silence. “Here’s your seat. If you place your right hand on the table, you would be able to find your spoon and on your left, would be the fork,” he proceeded.
Borey could tell I was nervous, so he said: “Don’t worry. It is dark but you are not alone in this room. I am here with you and you can call me whenever you need something. Relax and try to enjoy your food with your other senses.”
I was requested not to write about the food to keep the mystery alive but suffice to say, everyone should at least try eating at DID once in their lifetime – especially on World Blind Day.
DID is open every day from 6pm with the last seating at 9.30pm. For reservations, please call +855 (0)77 859 458 or email [email protected]