When did you last have a meal without cellphones and any other distractions? And I mean ANY distractions? Hard to remember? Same here. We are so used to spending our lives staring at screens that removing them for face to face interactions becomes awkward for us. It is safe to say, I am addicted to my phone. I am not the meal Instagrammer, (yet) but if Mr D and I are sitting at a restaurant, I find myself reaching for my phone, just to check Facebook, even when I am having a good time. I am not alone in this, Mr. D and many other people I know have this sad side effect of living a connected life too. In fact, Mr. D had started wondering whether it was really possible to have a meal without cellphones around. Providence listened to him and gave us a chance at Alila Diwa, Goa. We were there for a short vacation in August to celebrate our anniversary. The property is amazing and the staff is excellent, but more on that later.
While at lunch on our first day there, we met Mr. Nithil, the manager of their restaurant, after a nice chat about how were enjoying the hotel so far and the various facilities offered, he informed us about their monthly Dine in the Dark event. Inspired by the response they received for their Earth Hour initiative, Alila Diwa organises this event on the last Thursday of every month at their in-house restaurant Spice Studio. Now many of you may have heard about dining in the dark, but for those of you who haven’t here is a summary. Dine in the dark as you can guess by the name itself, involves eating in total darkness. The meals are usually set and kept a secret from the patrons. The concept is to use the senses beyond that of sight to enjoy your meal. You may ask, “But how can you enjoy a meal you cannot see?” to which I’ll say, “You have four other senses to enjoy your food with.” It is quite understandable to enjoy your food visually, but we rely on it too much, we do not really savour the texture of the food, the smell of it. All other senses pale before the sense of sight. It took us all of two minutes to make the decision to attend the event and we only required those two minutes because Mr D was not fully onboard.
Come 8.30 pm we arrived at the restaurant only to find the area enveloped in darkness. We were a little skeptical about how the staff would ensure complete darkness considering that the restaurant is open on all sides and had a working kitchen behind glass walls. To our surprise, the staff had thought of everything. The working kitchen was hidden behind blackout curtains and so was the entryway. The corridor connecting the rooms to the reception, which ran past the restaurant was lighted by small votive candles, cleverly placed in front of the pillars so that the diners could not see their light. The reception, a few metres away from the restaurant was also partially darkened, with very dim candlelight like lighting which provided no light to the restaurant. Other areas of the hotel which were near the restaurant also featured such dimmed or darkened lighting. To ensure the safety of the guests, this is a strictly adults only affair and no cellphones are allowed, the gentleman at the table in front of ours had picked up his phone to take a picture, only to be requested politely yet firmly by the waiter to shut it down.
We were met at the door by Nithil and provided with the drinks menu, they had tiny clip-on lights to illuminate it. We decided against drinks and requested to be seated. We were then led into the interior of the restaurant to our seats, with one of the waitstaff acting as our guide. The darkness of the restaurant was made more treacherous by the floor which was slippery in places due to the incessant rain. Thankfully, we reached our tables without any mishap. Our waiter, introduced himself and noted down our meal preferences, asking whether we had any dietary restrictions to cater to. Order taken, he quickly sped off into the darkness, moving as if, for him it was broad daylight. Left to the mercy of the dark, we quickly had a look around and saw, nothing… 😛 The darkness was complete. However, our eyes adjusted to the dark and soon we could see each other but not much else. It was a gorgeous rainy night and the smell of the wet earth mingled with the smell of the incense used to drive away mosquitoes created a very romantic atmosphere indeed.
Our food soon arrived. The food served was in form of a limited thali, ours was non-vegetarian and there was a vegetarian option available as well. The plate as far we could make out, was shaped like the palette we used for watercolours in school, a central plate with an attached section to hold the various bowls of curries. We quickly dug in. At first, we ate with the self-consciousness that arises out of eating in public, you know, the spoon in you right, fork in your left, take a bite and chew thirty times type, but soon realised that the darkness actually provided us a cover to eat as we pleased. The spoon was kept down and fingers came out to enjoy Indian food as it should be eaten, and I am not ashamed to say manners flew out the window. Not that we were belching and flinging food around, but more of eating like we were at home, licking our fingers and actually relishing it without worrying what our neighbouring table would think of us.
The people at Spice Studio encourage you to guess what you are eating and Mr D and I were glad to take up that challenge.The food was excellent to say the least, non-greasy, light dishes from various parts of the country, not just the heavy Punjabi food or Gujarati food we expect on our thalis. Up first were the starters; Wilaiti Potli, an Indian take on the Chinese moneybags, stuffed with potatoes and peas, sort of like a small samosa. I took one bite of it and thought that if the rest of the food was even half as good as this, I’d die happy, needless to say, I was not disappointed. Next up was Achari Methi ke Phool, cauliflower in kasundi (a mustard sauce) and Ande ke Kabab followed by Ban Ajwain ke Murg Tikkey. I loved the cauliflower, being a Bong, anything drenched in kasundi is my instant best friend. Was not very thrilled with the Ande ke Kebab (egg kebabs) though, not their fault though, I was going through a phase where the smell of eggs made me feel sick. The ajwaini murgh tikka (chicken tikkas with carrom seeds) was fabulous though, I had initially thought it was Chicken 65, a notion I was disabused of later.
Starters done, it was time for the main course. I can still remember the first taste of the Dal Studio, it tasted like first love, unicorn tears and angel tears, I am not exaggerating, it was THAT good. It was basically dal makhani, made with ghee (clarified butter), if I had ordered this a la carte, I am pretty sure I would have hogged the entire portion myself and made growling noises every time someone would try to come between me and my dal. If the dal was heavy, the Kaddu and Verusenaga ki Sabzi (pumpkin with peanuts) was as light. Pumpkin is one of my favourite vegetables and the pairing with peanuts was something I was trying for the first time, it tasted like something one would make at home and provided a lovely balance to the dal. Next up was Gobhi Musallam, which is roasted cauliflower with a rich yogurt sauce, it was mild and very pleasing, I liked it, but after the dal and the pumpkin, this was meh.
The non-vegetarian entrees consisted of Prawns Peratal and what I assume was Dhabe ka Gosht, because it was not mentioned in the menu we received at the end of the meal. The prawn preparation was a spicy Keralite dish and was very lovely indeed. The prawns were cooked just right, not the usual rubber one gets at other restaurants. The Dhabe ka Gosht or the mutton dish was very nice too, with what I think was a browned onion gravy. To accompany our meal we had methi (fenugreek) parathas, garlic naan and what we initially thought was pulao, but turned out to be tehri instead, made with carrots and peas.
There were two desserts, the first was what we had thought was Moong Dal Halwa, but turned out to be Anjeer and Badam Ka Halwa. The halwa was rich and you could taste the ghee in every single bite, all in all it was fabulous. All throughout the meal, I kept on thinking, “It feels like as if the menu created with me in mind, because it features all of my favourite food, how awesome would it be if the dessert would be my favourite too?” When I tasted the next dessert, I the avowed agnostic, actually believed in the presence of God for a moment, and that He had actually listened to my wish, why else would there be Balushahi on the menu? It was crisp, sweet and perfect. At this point I had more or less decided to junk my luggage and carry the chef back to Bombay, in my suitcase. With the last bite of Balushahi, our meal ended and I felt a sense of sadness that the meal was over so soon. As we left the restaurant, we were handed scrolls with our menu on them, I took one picture and promptly proceeded to lose them so here you have the really bad photo of the menu. Yes, I am a blogger, no this is not Scatterbrains Anonymous.
Alone in the darkness, without our cellphones or other people to distract us, Mr D and I really enjoyed our meal and each other’s company, we cracked jokes, had a lovely conversation and competed to see who could guess most correctly. It really set the tone for the rest of our vacation, we used our cellphones less, spoke to each other more and it felt so good. We are so visually bombarded everyday, it was a relief to just let our eyes relax and let our other senses take over. I would recommend this experience to everyone who visits Goa or if you’re in Bangalore, you can head over to the newly opened Dine in the Dark restaurant there.
- Location: Spice Studio, Alila Diwa, Majorda, Goa
- When: 8pm to 10.30pm, every last Thursday of the month
- Price: INR 950 plus taxes
- Child friendly: No children allowed, although, if you are a guest, you can leave your child at the Children’s Centre located in the hotel.
- Senior friendly: Yes, from what we could make out, the staff held the hands of seniors or people who had trouble navigating to guide them to and from the table.
- Pet friendly: No pets allowed in the hotel