As a child, did you ever walk around your house with your eyes closed, wondering how it might feel to be blind? Montreal’s O.Noir restaurant is like an adult version of that.
O.Noir invites you into its pitch-black dining room to enjoy a meal in which the darkness enables the exquisite flavors to be brought out. Though the cashiers and the kitchen staff can see, waiters and waitresses are legally blind. This creates a trust reversal with the general public. While workers are familiar with their environment at the restaurant, customers are entirely disoriented, and almost vulnerable. The concept raises awareness about disabilities, generates good employment opportunities, and makes room for lasting memories.
Located in the Plateau Mont-Royal, the restaurant may be easy to miss from the outside. However, the décor of the front section is a striking country-chic blend, showcasing raw-looking wood furnishings with minimalist, modern black cushions. After having chosen from a relatively limited menu (available entirely online), customers can order either a two or three-course meal (prices vary only by the number of courses, and not by the dish itself). One may also select the ‘surprise’ option for any part of the meal; all allergies and dislikes are taken into account. The waiter or waitress then guides the group to their table in the dark dining section in a train formation to avoid injury from hitting tables and such, that they cannot see. Walking in an unknown area, in total darkness, is more disorienting than you would expect.
The waiters and waitresses are extremely friendly and competent. The food is delicious as well, but this isn’t about the culinary aspect of the restaurant (although it’s fantastic). This is about the way O.Noir reaches far beyond the ordinary dining experience by tapping deep into the senses. Once the initial moment of finding where the utensils are on the table and figuring out what food is on your plate (with your hands, mostly) has passed… well, actually, it never does go away. The next course always brings about another round of the guessing game. This does something extraordinary (in today’s culture of detachment and technology anyway); for many, it forces you to live in the moment, to focus on what you’re doing, and nothing more. Time passes almost as quickly as it did during childhood, when living in the present was all you did. Before you know it, half the meal has gone by, and you haven’t even thought about homework, or responsibilities!
O.Noir sets itself apart from any other venue by not aiming to visually please consumers. In life, our eyes are constantly solicited – advertisements, social media, images on screens, bright colors, etc. In the pitch-black restaurant, no matter how wide you open your eyes, everything surrounding you is essentially invisible. Dining at O.Noir is an unforgettable experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list!