Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dining in the Dark

In retrospect, the recent London trip was much about eating.

Immediately on our return from oop north, Alex had distinct ideas about what he wanted to eat and the location -- the much gentrified Shoreditch area.  I remember Shoreditch as being very much the poor relation to the City nearby and in fact much of the area was either bomb sites or those revolting buildings slapped up in the 1950's and 1960's.  Well that's all changed as the artsy set has moved in and gentrified the place to shabby chic levels, higher property prices and much, much better restaurants and bars.

Alex chose the Viet Grill (see website here) where we ate up a storm clearly needing some Vietnamese comfort food in the shape of their pho (aka noodles).  Really nice too after which we all split up as I wanted to go for a stroll through the City whilst the young uns wanted to rest before that night's birthday party for Ali which would be held in Brixton Market.

Brixton Market through the years

Things have changed a lot since I last worked in the City nearly 30 years ago.  Wild horses wouldn't have dragged me to Shoreditch or Brixton.  Then the former was a dump whilst the latter was a place people didn't return from.  Gentrification has changed everything and whilst the bones of the City were still there, I was keen to stroll down memory lane to see if I actually could recognise some of my old haunts.

How the City has changed too.

It still has the same character that it always had I think because the City like most places in England grew simply by adding on bits to what was there before.  There was nothing planned.  So you have tall buildings, small buildings and little lanes cheek by jowl with the new glass monstrosity high rises.  It all makes for a very interesting labyrinth which it took me years to learn years ago and which sadly meant I had to keep to the main thoroughfares this time so as not to get lost.  By contrast US cities are mainly planned with the big blocks dominating so there are fewer labyrinthine walkways to discover.

Anyway Dirty Dicks opposite Liverpool Street station is still there -- it used to be scraggy but now I am sure it has gone up market like everything else.

Bishopsgate is unrecognizable now with many of the little lanes and low buildings replaced by big roads and even bigger buildings!  But it was pleasant to stroll through the City during rush hour… for a while until I got sick of the deluge of people and the rain, and caught the tube back to my lodging.

We'd arranged to meet at Brixton Market at 8 pm and I wanted to be early as Jan's daughter Gabby would be joining us and I suspected the lads may be late (they were).  As it happened I met her just outside Brixton tube station so we walked into the market together.

Brixton has also been gentrified… or rather it is in an earlier stage of gentrification than Shoreditch, but you can see it happening.  Gabby and the London based friends of Alex and Ali were all devotees of the area, but it still has a bit of an edge to it.  Mind you the assembly point was a hamburger restaurant which next door had a champagne and cheese bar.  Further into the market was a Roti stand so all ethnicities appeared to be covered.

Ali and the Champagne Bar

The following day I went down to Canterbury to see my mother-in-law Anna on the train.  Not as easy as it should have been as the heavy rains had washed away part of the fast railway that connects to the Channel Tunnel.  This meant the stopping train which in the end was both reasonable cost and fast enough, not quite 90 minutes.  Mind you it rained cats and dogs throughout which actually wasn't bad at all as I enjoyed strolling along the City walls into the City centre -- something I haven't done enough.

1,000 year old City walls

1,000 years of history in this City but now it was very, very wet.  Even the usually low River Stour is right up to its highs -- the story of the entire country at the moment.

The highlight was that evening's big adventure -- namely dining in the dark with Gabby at Dans Le Noir (see website here), a restaurant on the fringes of the City.  This what the website says:

"You are about to live an unbelievable experience: eating and drinking in the pitch darkness.
This idea might seem a little strange at first, but by suppressing the dominant sense of sight, you will enter a world in which one is uncertain of surroundings and experiences.

"With the help of our blind guides you are going to completely re-evaluate the notions of taste and smell through our gastronomic and pedagogical process.

"Our food, mostly organic, is based on first quality ingredients, making this experience as interesting and tasty as possible. Just choose one of our 4 surprise menus.

"Dans le Noir? London is located in the charming Clerkenwell area, on 30-31 Clerkenwell Green, near Holborn and Farringdon, a few minutes walk from the heart of the city: the restaurant can accommodate approximately sixty people in the “dark room”, the main dining area. It also has a lit bar and a private lounge serving fine wines and delicious specialty cocktails before and after a meal."

This was an amazing experience although there are several practical considerations to get over: first is the total darkness.  And I do mean the total darkness.  Wave your hands in front of your eyes and you can usually see a flicker.  Not in that restaurant though.  Very eerie.  Second is the food.  As you cannot see a thing, it is almost as though you are eating with a spoon as you cannot find the food on your plate in the usual way.  Makes fine food almost irrelevant.  Third is the company.  You cannot see them!  There are people to left and right and the noise level is pretty high -- one of our neighbours talked endlessly about fell diseases throughout.  But overall I had a great time with Gabby!

I think I put on 10 pounds!

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