Not long after a friend and I arrived at Il Posto, we put on blindfolds, and I started to worry about not being able to get my fork to my mouth, and about splattering food all over the table.
The Italian restaurant on Stephen’s Green has tasteful artwork, flowers, candles, and white walls and table cloths, but I could no longer see any of that.
Since we couldn’t read the menus, our friendly, patient waitress started off by talking us through our options for starters. We wondered which would be easiest to eat without our sight.
Il Posto is one of 29 restaurants in Dublin running Dine in the Dark, a week-long culinary event taking place across the country from 6 to 13 November, which will raise funds for the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI).
Participating restaurants will provide a set menu, and then add €5 to the bill – which will go to the NCBI. (The campaign hasn’t started yet, but Il Posto gave us a preview.)
Dine in the Dark is a way of “bringing people together to raise awareness, vital funds and of course to have fun,” said Chris White, CEO of NCBI, by email.
As our waitress described Il Posto’s starters, I found it easy enough to visualise each one.
But my dining companion, Eve Vaughan, found it difficult to follow the menu without being able to see the words.
We toyed with the idea of ordering the meat and cheese board, which sounded ideal for sharing. But Vaughan was worried about our ability to manage it without our sight.
“The board scares me,” she said. “It’s going to be massive and messy and we are just going to make a show of ourselves.”
After some deliberation, we went for the cherry tomato, courgette and bell pepper tart with feta cheese. The patient waitress agreed to cut into four pieces for us.
For Dine in the Dark, some restaurants are sticking with their usual menus and just adding blindfolds. Others have decided to play around with what they offer.
“We thought it would be a bit of fun if we had a different menu for Dine in the Dark,” said David Power, head chef at Temple Bar’s Boxty House, which is participating on 9 November.
“The starter is based on different cooking processes and a main course is based on four different meats. So it’s a guessing game. Can you tell your pork from your lamb?” he said.
Power has also made alterations to compensate for decreased dexterity. “We can’t go for anything too messy or sloppy,” he says.
He hopes that with their sight removed, customers will savour the different flavours more, notice the subtler tones of what they are eating.
“We’re hoping by having the blindfold on they will be focused on the taste and guessing what they are eating and will enjoy it more in that regard,” he said. “It’s a bit of a laugh and a good social experiment as much as anything else.”
Back at Il Posto, manager Amanda Jackson says she is looking forward to creating an authentic experience for diners next week when she serves them a full Italian menu that they cannot see.
“We decided to just do our normal menu, because we wanted to recreate the experience a blind person would have if they came in to our restaurant,” she said. “In that case we would talk them through the menu, explain everything to them and they would choose what they want to eat.”
Learning to Eat
On Friday night, it wasn’t easy to get the cherry tomato, courgette and bell pepper tart with feta cheese onto my fork with the blindfold on. The tart broke up, and I used my hands.
Each taste did seem clearer though. I could identify each of the ingredients, and it was a mindful way of eating.
My dinner companion, Vaughan, thought the opposite. The food was amazing, she said, but would have been ever better if she had been able to see it.
“I love food and cooking myself, but it’s all in the presentation. To me, the two things are linked and I just can’t get away from that,” she said.
When the main courses came out the real fun began. I tried to use my cutlery, but the temptation to use my hands was immense. So I also cheated a little, using my fingers to steady my food on my fork.
I had chicken, potatoes and vegetables, I think. I wasn’t sure exactly which vegetables I was eating at times. But they were crunchy with a light seasoning of garlic so it didn’t bother me anyway.
I had no idea whether I was throwing food all over the table, and after a while I didn’t care. The flavours were more intense. It was all about the food.
We shared a dessert of chocolate mousse. It was placed in the middle of the table, and we agreed to take it in turns to dip our spoons so we wouldn’t collide.
When Vaughan and I talked about it after the meal, we agreed that our conversation over dinner had become serious quickly.
We began to talk about really in-depth stuff, about how you become isolated, about the effects of disabilities. It felt like we were in our own little world, just the two of us, not like we were sitting in a busy restaurant surrounded by people.
Another realisation: catching the attention of a waitress, or anybody, when you can’t see is really, really difficult.
The go-to polite option of eye-contact was out. We couldn’t work out how to call the waitress to ask for more water without flailing and making a scene.
Back to the World
After the meal, I removed my blindfold.
I was surprised at how the restaurant had filled up. I hadn’t noticed that a lot of people had come in, or that many more conversations had been bubbling away.
Vaughan had. She said that all the sounds had left her a bit disoriented.
“Sounds were much more heightened for me, my own voice included,” she said. “The conversation anchored me. Without it, I would have felt uncomfortable being surrounded by people I couldn’t see.”
It is normal to feel isolated when you have a blindfold on, says Amie Hynes Fitzpatrick, NCBI corporate engagement executive and Dine in the Dark project manager.
“It puts people a little bit outside their comfort zone and it provokes people to ask questions they have never really thought of before,” she said.
One of the things the NCBI focuses on is bringing blind people back from the isolation they can experience when they become blind, said Hynes Fitzpatrick, who is legally blind herself.
Dine in the Dark “highlights what the NCBI do – and what they did for me. They bring people back into mainstream society and back from isolation,” she said.
“It’s also great craic. I’ve done it with my friends a few times.”