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Does dining in the dark make food taste different?

PUBLISHED: 12:36 24 April 2019 | UPDATED: 12:36 24 April 2019

Dining in the Dark at Open, Norwich. Cucumber, watermelon, basil, and vodka. Photo: Geraldine Scott

Dining in the Dark at Open, Norwich. Cucumber, watermelon, basil, and vodka. Photo: Geraldine Scott

Geraldine Scott

How much of what we taste is based on what we see? Geraldine Scott found out with a trip to Dining in the Dark at Open, Norwich.

Dining in the Dark at Open, Norwich. Jack fruit and pulled prok BBQ bon bons. Photo: Geraldine ScottDining in the Dark at Open, Norwich. Jack fruit and pulled prok BBQ bon bons. Photo: Geraldine Scott

It's no secret that a beautifully presented meal can entice you in making you want more - or a poorly presented one, thrown together, can make a dining experience less than luxurious.

But I hadn't realised just how much of our taste sensations were influenced by what we could see in front of us on the plate.

The sold out Dining in the Dark event (£30pp), masterminded by Open's head of hospitality Andrew Baker, proved exactly how we can be tricked by our tastebuds, while also experimenting with brave flavour combinations.

When we arrived we were ushered into the gastronomic equivalent of a photographic studio - all dark walls and trip hazards - or it would have been if not for helpful staff on hand with torches to prevent grazed knees.

Dining in the Dark at Open, Norwich. Strawberry, chilli, and basil sorbet with strawberry powder. Photo: Geraldine ScottDining in the Dark at Open, Norwich. Strawberry, chilli, and basil sorbet with strawberry powder. Photo: Geraldine Scott

Greeted with a cocktail, we were given glittering masks before being shown into the dining area, where the evening began.

Part of the fun was guessing at what the ingredients were as the eight courses were brought out - the first, a canape, had a clear game taste but where the salty taste came from was unclear.

Some guessed pheasant, but it transpired the treat was a guinea fowl ballantine, with seaweed stuffing on crostini and pickle.

This was quickly followed by an amuse boche served in a charming mini glass mason jar, the watermelon taste was clear, but balled additions in the liquid left diner bemused. It was soon revealed they were cucumber, with basil and vodka added in for good measure.

Dining in the Dark at Open, Norwich. Coffee infused lamb with vegetable terrine and a kahula jus. Photo: Geraldine ScottDining in the Dark at Open, Norwich. Coffee infused lamb with vegetable terrine and a kahula jus. Photo: Geraldine Scott

Then we were onto the main event - jack fruit and pulled pork BBQ bon bons mixed together left everyone confused, as the tastes were clear but the ingredients not so much.

A strawberry, chilli and basil sorbet was a welcome palate cleanser, with strong flavours easy to pick out.

While the coffee infused lamb with vegetable terrine and a kahula jus was a mystery at first. The meat itself was clear - lamb has a distinctive texture. But the bitterness that came with a coffee left some in the dark until Andrew gave it away.

A continuing global theme tricked diners into whether a Bao bun - it's fluffy texture recognisable - contained horseradish or wasabi. It was wasabi - but with added pickled mooli and carrot with a punch.

Dining in the Dark at Open, Norwich. Pickled mooli, wasabi, and carrot Bao bun. Photo: Geraldine ScottDining in the Dark at Open, Norwich. Pickled mooli, wasabi, and carrot Bao bun. Photo: Geraldine Scott

The first offering for dessert again hoodwinked us - the style was clearly that of a creme brulee, silky with a perfectly crisp top - but the taste was savoury.

Butternut, tonka, and cinnamon gave this effect - with an added sweet parsnip crisp for good measure.

The final treat attracted guesses of avocado, with white chocolate, but the correct answer was instead a matcha mousse, with matcha glaze and shortbread.

The strong flavours created by Andrew were necessary when one sense is diminished, but they seemed even more powerful simply because of that. The coffee more bitter, the chilli more spicy, and the strawberries more sweet.

Dining in the Dark at Open, Norwich. Butternut, tonka, and cinnamon brulee, with sweet parsnip crisp. Photo: Geraldine ScottDining in the Dark at Open, Norwich. Butternut, tonka, and cinnamon brulee, with sweet parsnip crisp. Photo: Geraldine Scott

The menu itself would not be out of place for a special occasion out, but the unique nature of this event meant it could truly be appreciated without distraction - except the occasional dropping of cutlery!

All in all an ingenious evening with exciting combinations, resulting in a very different night out.

•This is an independent review

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