Noir. Dining in the Dark: Would You Dine in the Dark on a First Date?
Is Noir. Dining in the Dark a good choice for a first date?
I took the risk so you don’t have to.
Throughout the night, we enjoyed an evening filled with genuine hospitality, fun board games, and a later-to-be-revealed dinner in the darkness.
Meanwhile, I learned that Noir was much more than just a good spot for a first date. It’s a culinary and socially responsible institution of Ho Chi Minh City. A rare, mission-driven gem to find in an otherwise bustling, no rules, anything-goes city.
The team returned a few days later to speak with owners Anh Tú Vu and Germ Doornbos about their experience building Noir. It tops the charts on TripAdvisor and is considered by locals and visitors to be a must-go gastronomical experience unlike any other in Vietnam.
We also learned a few fun facts about Noir and the duo team along the way. Read on…or stay in the darkness if you’d like.
What inspired Noir?
The inspiration of starting a dining in the dark restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City sat on the back burner for about a year after coming across the concept in our travels. We had done our fair share of reading and fell in love with it.
We started moving forward on this project in late 2013.
We spent months defining the concept. We looked for blind and visually impaired service staff and trained them into hospitality experts. We found a location and renovated it into a restaurant with dark dining rooms.
On 10 October 2014 we considered ourselves ready to open the doors.
What does Noir hope to achieve as a different type of restaurant?
We want to provide our guests with a uniquely mind-altering experience where smell, taste, touch and hearing unite to bring you a completely new journey of the senses. Your senses will heighten as you are deprived of sight. Textures and flavours will come to the forefront as you dine your way through unique dishes that have not been described beforehand. You will discover the stunning truth that people tend to experience food with their eyes, rather than with their palate.
We believe the concepts kind of falls into three key segments. First, we want to provide our guests with a unique dark dining experience. Eating in a pitch-black dining room with the aid of your “other” senses of taste, smell, touch and hearing, and not being distracted by mobile devices.
Second, the dark dining concept provides job opportunities for the blind and visually impaired. We always wanted to pioneer a socially responsible business. Out of around 4,000 blind and visually impaired people in Ho Chi Minh City, we are now employing 11 blind and visually impaired people. It is small number, but it is a start.
In Vietnam the unemployment rate for blind and visually impaired people is around 94%. By means of this restaurant we are creating job opportunities and somehow it also takes away a bit of the pressure from their families, since now they are able to earn their own money and take care of their livelihood.
And thirdly the creation of awareness into the blind and visually impaired community in Vietnam. We want our guests to understand how blind people live and work. In their daily lives, many impaired live on the sidelines of society. Especially in developing nations like Vietnam, their lives are way more complicated. There are no employment opportunities, awareness, and fewer programs to help them.
At Noir Dining in the Dark we turn this around. We let the guest place their trust in the hands of the blind. It is the opposite of society. The disabled are the ones who help the rest of society do something as simple as eat!
What kind of diners come to Noir?
Most of our guests are international visitors from many corners of the globe, either traveling in Vietnam or arriving on business in Ho Chi Minh City. There is a large number of guests from the city itself too, both Vietnamese and foreigners who live here.
We have returning guests, who come in different groups each time. Maybe one day as a couple and the next time with friends. There are some guests bringing visiting family members or friends along with them. And then there are guests as well who try out our new menus each time we change.
We occasionally have repeat local bachelors who bring new first dates to Noir every once in awhile. You’re not the only one that thinks it’s a great first date spot!
What’s next for Noir?
A second outlet will start soon on the second floor of the same building as Noir. with the name Blanc. As the name suggests, this time it will be in the light.
Even though our guests can see what they eat, they will be served by a deaf and hearing impaired service team. We will ask our guests to communicate and place their orders with the staff in sign language. There will be pictograms in the menu and a cheat-sheet at the table for guests to communicate with the staff.
It is a common misconception that there is a worldwide sign language. There are more than 150 different sign languages worldwide. Our staff is fluent in Ho Chi Minh City Sign Language
Vietnam does not have a national sign language yet, there are even three sign languages in Vietnam. Hanoi, Hai Phong and HCMC all have their own sign language, that share about 52-58% in common.
What does the training program look like for your staff?
The passion and enthusiasm of our team drives us forward. We provide the training and the skills, however it is up to our team of blind and visually impaired employees to truly bring the experience to life. Our staff enjoys working since they understand that the concept is designed around them.
They feel in charge since our guests depend on them. We think that their lack of experience is compensated by their enthusiasm and willing to learn.
The training is required, since none of the blind have any job experience, let alone serving in a restaurant. Our program consists of three months of interactive service skill training, hospitality fundamentals, language and role-play.
What are your favorite cafes in Ho Chi Minh City?
L’Usine on 151 Đồng Khởi in District 1. It’s great for a cup of tea and cupcake. Features a nice shop too.
Republic Coffee on 8A/ A9 Thai Van Lung in District 1. It’s a nice small coffee shop, rather hidden in the alleyways of little Japantown. Menu is coffee only, but very good quality and not so commercial.
The Fig Café Lounge on 15 Nguyễn Thị Huỳnh, District Phú Nhuận. Very hidden and generally not crowded. It’s nice to sit outside next to the pond with the Buddha statue.
Maison Marou Chocolate on 169 Calmette in District 1. If you like chocolate, this is the place to be. The best place to have chocolate in liquid and solid form.
Where do you take your Friday night date out in Ho Chi Minh City?
A glass of wine at the terrace of the Refinery, 74 Hai Bà Trưng Street. Go before 20:30 or after 21:30. The neighbours at Beirut Restaurant have belly dancing and the music is way too loud to fully enjoy.
Our favourite rooftop bar is at the Hotel des Arts Saigon on 76-78 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai in District 3. A true boutique hotel with a very stylish rooftop, good service, nice views and good bar team who make excellent cocktails!
Or keep it simple and have some chè. Our favourites are Quán Chè Nóng at 50 Lý Chính Thắng in District 3 or the Chinese style chè at Chè Tường Phong on 83 An Điềm Street in District 5.
What are your favorite travel destinations? Where do you want to go next?
In Vietnam, we love to go to Đà Lạt & Hội An.
Other favourite destinations are Luang Prabang in Laos. Nice spot, peaceful, relaxing and a nice combination of culture, architecture and local food. We loved traveling through Kyrgyzstan. Those empty mountain landscapes are magical, truly amazing.
We also loved visiting Prague, Budapest, Athens. Rome is close to our heart too.
We have not been to Norway and Sweden yet, we are planning to go there on our next trip to Europe. And Myanmar, New Zealand, Egypt and Croatia are on that list too. So many places still really.
Five nice-to-knows about Tú and Germ?
- Tú was born in the bustling old quarter of Hanoi and Germ is from the very flat country of The Netherlands
- Tú goes for for bún ốc and Germ loves bún thịt nướng
- We both have a weakness for Indochine architecture and design
- An afternoon of antique or art shopping makes us happy
- Tú and Germ met at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, where Tú was employed and Germ was an intern
Who I should I talk to next?
Michael Brosowski from Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation.
He is based in Hanoi and is doing an amazing job with helping vulnerable street children and getting boys and girls out of the hands of human trafficking rings.
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