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REVIEW: Noire at Fairmont Dubai

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Being a waiter in Dubai must be an interesting job. The conversations you’d overhear, the famous faces you may serve, the food you’d get to sample first… Being a waiter in pitch darkness, though, is another challenge entirely. Imagine being able to see the people you are serving, knowing they can’t see you – or the food in front of them.

That’s the set-up at Noire on the ninth floor of Fairmont Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road. The restaurant is in pitch darkness from the moment you step tentatively inside – hand on the waiter’s shoulder, steadily pigeon-stepping to your table. It’s entirely black, a “wave your hand around in front of your nose and you won’t see it” level of black.

ShortList is here to try a mystery three-course gourmet menu – which changes weekly so no secrets are leaked – served by waiters wearing night-vision goggles. They help you navigate your table top to find everything you need – spoons glasses and bread rolls – without causing chaos in the process.

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“Please do not use your mobile phones,” says the manager during an introductory briefing. At this stage, you’re both excited and nervous; you have no idea what you will be eating or whether it will end up in your lap. Then there’s the idea of sitting in a room that’s entirely cloaked in darkness for “at least an hour and a half”. Can that be enjoyable?

Being led inside, it is difficult not to think we’ll collide with a wall or fall down some unseen stairs. “It’s so dark,” everyone mutters. In fact, just sitting down is like some sort of team building exercise. “The chair is there, don’t worry,” a waiter reassures us. The first course is a soup (thanks chef!) loaded with textures and unexpected flavours – bean sprouts, prawns, tomato bursts. The aim of chef Himanshu Pahwa is to give you “an adventure for your taste buds” after all.

Perhaps as a result, the atmosphere turns from nervous whispers to that of any other busy restaurant, with music playing subtly and people laughing and chattering freely. One diner says, “I’m just eating with my hands!”

The main course smells like a full roast dinner, but is packed with red herrings – crispy seaweed, a macaroon filled with foie gras, a potato crostini loaded with organic chicken. While the dessert is a mind game in itself – lumps of sponge, popping candy, melted ice cream stretched across a long plate.

As the meal comes to an end, our head waiter Reagan thanks us for putting our trust in him and his team. Back in the light, we then meet chef Pahwa for the big reveal of what we’ve been eating. We are also given the option to strap on night-vision goggles and go back inside the restaurant. “Some people see what a mess they’ve made and refuse to admit that’s their table,” Reagan laughs.

He has been working here since the restaurant opened two years ago, but says he still gets a thrill from seeing people experience it for the first time.

“We do get regular return diners,” he says. “But I’ve collected up so many stories in that room.”

Apparently, one elderly couple asked to stay in the room longer, because they found it easier to talk to each other cloaked in darkness. “The woman said in 30 years her husband had never been so open with her,” he says.

“It never gets boring working here,” he smiles, as we strap on the night-vision goggles to go and see what an almighty mess we have made. And we had.

Noire, Fairmont Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road. AED325 for a three-course meal including beverages.

For bookings, call: +9714 311 8316

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