Tucked away in an unassuming shop house, Nox – Dine in the Dark isn’t quite what you’d expect to find amongst the hipster shops, fabric stores, and casual eateries of Bugis. What it is though, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience (for most of us). A stimulating one that’s unlike any other dining concept.
We’d always heard stories about the restaurant, but never ticked it off our bucket list until now. With news that the five-year-old venue recently welcomed a new head chef and head bartender into its ranks, we set out to immerse ourselves in this “multi-sensory journey”.
So on a rainy, muggy weekday evening, we plodded our way through the streets searching for Nox, not entirely sure what to anticipate. Our first glimpse of the space was its cozy bar, filled with plush seats, high tables, and catchy beats of late ’90s/early ’00s pop hits.
Welcomed with a smile, we were briefed on the rundown, from the three courses that would contain four small dishes each, to the restaurant’s servers, who are all visually impaired and specially trained for this type of dinner service. After queries on our dietary restrictions and cocktail preferences, an amuse-bouche arrived, and we picked out our drink pairings from a selection of wine, cocktail, and mocktail flights.
Just like the mystery menu, which is styled after modern European cuisine, the beverages were to be served as a surprise once dinner began.
Nerves a little jittery, we stuffed our belongings into the complimentary lockers provided and proceeded to stand in a line as instructed. Our guide Bernard came around to introduce himself and, hands on each other’s shoulders, we climbed up the stairs, gradually ascending into the darkness.
It was disconcerting, to say the least. Even though you’re prepared to, well, dine in the dark, you’re still not quite ready for the pitch black unknown that awaits. Our minds screamed at us not to enter the black hole, yet step by step, our feet moved forward, till we could no longer see our hands in front of us.
With legs (and voices) a tad bit wobbly, we finally reached our table without bumping into anything, and thankfully our
savior server Bernard was supremely patient and good-natured, easing us into our chairs and distracting us from visions of shadowy horror flicks with his boundless cheer and amiable wit. What apprehension we felt evaporated as soon as he sat us down and helped us find our way around the cutlery and cups.
Bernard very quickly became one of the highlights of our evening, coming by every so often, armed with clever jokes and amusing zingers, to check on us. Halfway through, he opened up about his own story, sharing details of how he lost his sight just last year, but got back into the working saddle just four months later, in January 2018, by joining the team at Nox.
It was a poignant reminder for us, to be thankful for each new day — but, lest we start getting a little too solemn, Bernard whips out another gleeful joke, poking fun at everything from the food to the very concept of this experience.
As we attempted to adjust our senses to the inky darkness, going through the first course, the appetizer, was the roughest — our eyes strained with every fiber of our being to find any faint source of light. There were none.
A couple of times, we tried to shovel food into our mouths, only to discover the spoon came up empty, or stabbed enthusiastically at imaginary bits in the bowls. But hey, that’s one of the perks of dining in the dark — no one’s there to watch you eating unglamorously.
So, maybe this could be an ideal spot for a first date. No need for proper table etiquette, no judgments made, no one to catch you rolling your eyes. It’d be, quite literally, a blind date.
After a few initial misfires, we fancied ourselves experts at navigating our way around the table by the time our mains arrived. Cocktail glass on the right? Check. Utensils by the side of the table? Check. Four little bowls in diamond formation served on a rotating plate? Double check. Smoothly, we ate our way through to dessert, comfortably getting a sense of our surroundings by creating our own mind map in the dark.
Just before the meal came to an end and Bernard gently led us back downstairs, we realized, with a start, that the place was full of people chatting and laughing. No awkward silences here, or anti-social phone-gazing. Everyone was having a jolly good time, without the distraction of people-watching or phones pinging every few minutes. It was a pleasant surprise to simply concentrate on the company, the conversation, and the cuisine.
Not that we could properly figure out what we were chewing on, though. You know how they say when you lose one of your senses, the rest strive to make up for it? Well, that didn’t exactly work for us. Maybe it was our taste buds taking the day off, but when we attempted to fill out the questionnaire asking us to guess what we just ate, we quickly realized how completely off we were. If we were graded, we’d get a C- for sure. A total fail by Asian standards.
What we thought was sweet potato turned out to be chestnuts, and a puzzling starter we assumed to be tuna mayo was actually duck rillette. (Talk about a mistake of basic bitch proportions.) Meanwhile, we discovered our “bacon” was smoked duck, then we confused pork for beef steak, and got our minds blown when the beef brisket we were so certain about was revealed to be pork cheek.
Laugh at our awful guesses all you want, but it’s truly not as straightforward as you’d think, trying to decipher the ingredients of each dish while your brain and your taste buds disagree. Although, that’s what made it tremendously fun: breaking down the complex, intricate layers in each creation, tossing aside all your preconceived notions about certain ingredients, and bravely sampling foods you never thought you liked. Even though you can’t see anything, your other senses are engaged through the variety of aromas, textures, and flavors in each course.
Do note, however, that at $88 per person, the three-course/12-dish menu sits on the high end. Plus, the three-cocktail pairing will set you back an additional $50, while the wines range from $30 (for two glasses) to $40 (for three). Despite that, if you find yourself converted to restaurant regular, Nox switches up its menu every six to eight weeks, so there won’t be any lack of surprises each time you visit.
But at the end of the day, we see it as a humbling experience, learning to trust a stranger to guide you in doing the most basic of things. Like walking to your table and picking up a fork.
A meaningful one too, as you “see”, just for an evening, the world through the eyes of the blind.
Nox – Dine in the Dark is at 269 Beach Rd.
6298-0708. Daily 6pm-late.
MRT: Bugis/Nicoll Highway