My dark dining experience in Hotel Slon, Ljubljana. A delicious four-course dinner with some fun surprises.
When Total Slovenia News asked me to cover the Dinner in the Dark Ljubljana experience, I was thrilled. I’d heard of dark dining before. Some Maltese friends of mine living in Dubai dined at Noire and loved it. But I’d never given it much thought till I got the opportunity to experience Dinner in the Dark Ljubljana.
All sorts of questions started popping into my head at the thought of it. How dark WILL it be? “Pitch dark”, I’m told. Great. How can I enjoy my food if I can’t even see it? Part of the pleasure when eating lies in seeing the food and knowing what it is you’re about to eat, preparing your taste buds for what’s to come. That’s my opinion, at least.
How will I target the food without repeatedly poking my plate in vain? Will I love dining in the dark? Will I not? Only one way to find out: Try it out! So I went ahead and made a booking for myself and my dinner companion.
Here’s another one of my unusual dining experiences: Fine Food & Wine, Way Down in a Mine.
Dark Dining at Hotel Slon
On arrival at the Dinner in the Dark area at Hotel Slon, a host greeted us with a glass of sparkling wine and gave us brief instructions to use the restroom and deposit our belongings, including mobiles, in a locker.
While walking to the dining room, I wondered whether the waiters would be visually impaired as they’re known to be in most similar gastro experiences. I got my answer at the entrance of the dining room where we met our two hosts who would double up as waiters. They already had their night-vision goggles strapped to their foreheads.
My primary feeling of uneasiness faded as we formed a human train together with other excited diners. Our hosts at the very front led us as we tiptoed into the dining room to the sound of soothing, instrumental, dinner jazz music. I was ready to face the challenge.
A surprise menu lay ahead. All we had to do a few days in advance was choose from the meat or vegetarian options. We’d gone for the meat.
Even though the waiters led us to our tables, I had to do some groping around till I found my seat, cutlery, and glass. After concluding we were seated at a table for two, I felt for the bread basket and started munching away, already feeling more at home and giggling while grabbing my partner’s hand.
The Food: An Unusual Dinner Experience
“Excuse me, madam,” our waiter said. I pulled back from our table to make way for the food. Hmm, I smelt basil. It was our amuse-bouche (appetiser). Curiosity about what was in the tiny bowl made me pick up whatever piece of cutlery I could find to my right. As I lifted the contents of the bowl to my mouth with a spoon, the basil scent became more intense. I tasted basil pesto and tomato, but couldn’t suss the soft and slightly chewy substance, which I later found out was buffalo mozzarella. And what was that somewhat crunchy part? I wondered.
Prawns came next. I knew it from the moment the food was put in front of us. And the small, spongy things… I could bet they were quail eggs. “Really?” asked my partner. I was quite convinced.
That was our cold starter. A bacon smell caught my nose as the warm starter arrived. By this time, I’d ditched the cutlery and resorted to using my hands. How liberating! The child in me came out as I jabbed my fingers all over the plate, feeling the various textures and temperatures, getting intimate with my food. And the great thing: I didn’t need to be ashamed.
“The child in me came out as I jabbed my fingers all over the plate…”Denise Rejec – Wine Dine Slovenia
The meaty main course that followed was lovely, lots of interesting play between tastes and textures. The softness of the braised meat contrasted well with the popped buckwheat and cottage cheese štruklji. And I ate with gusto (and hands of course) to the sound of soft dinner jazz and lots of giggling and food guessing.
Dessert? Not quite yet. Let’s break for some fun in the dark.
Some (Embarrassing) Fun in the Dark
At some point between the courses, all of us diners received an object. We had to guess what it was. Ours was soft and furry—a soft toy. Was it a camel? No hump. A llama perhaps?
Then, our waiter instructed us to rise from our chairs. It was time to go in search of our digestive. They certainly weren’t making things easy for us 😀 All we had was his voice as a cue. At one point I thought I’d reached my goal, only to find it was someone else’s glass of water! At least I had the darkness to save me from embarrassment.
“I thought I’d reached my goal, only to find it was someone else’s glass of water!”Denise Rejec – Wine Dine Slovenia
It took a bump into what seemed like column and some more toe-stepping till I reached the voice. He handed me a glass. Once we’d all got our reward, we raised our glasses to a loud “Cheeeeers!” A pleasant smell of orange wafted up from the glass. It could have been Cointreau. But no, Slovenes are not into this stuff, I thought. Anyway, it turned out to be one of Slovenia’s most popular liqueurs: Teran liqueur.
That Strawberry Dessert!
Back at our table, dessert came in the form of a deconstructed cheesecake. We were told it was Hotel Slon’s signature dessert. It smelled so sweetly of strawberry, and to my delight, it came in two bowls: one with ice cream, the other with the cheesecake. Soooo good! And the portion was quite large, it took me a while to finish.
We’d survived without too much spillage, clothes unharmed. Photos of our dishes on a screen greeted us as we exited the dining room the same way we’d entered, in train mode. I discovered that the somewhat crunchy part of my appetiser was a baby spinach leaf, among other answers to my questions in the dark. (I was right about the quail eggs by the way.) The soft toy also came into sight—my little daughter would love it.
After Dinner: An Afterthought
Back out onto the street, I reflected on the overall experience. Definitely a must for any enthusiastic diner with an adventurous streak. Not something I would do on a first date, but certainly with someone I know well.
I must admit, I love to admire my food before eating as much as I love to taste it. But dining in the dark gave me a refreshed perspective on food where the sense of smell and touch takes centre stage. Exploring food’s tactile features with the hands, just like a child normally does, makes the relationship with food more personal and somehow more intense. I’m glad I’d submitted to the dark dining challenge.
There was just one problem: My partner, knowing my healthy appetite, could accuse me of sneaking food from his plate. How could I prove him wrong?
Have YOU ever dined in the dark? I’d love to hear your impressions.
I was invited to write about Dinner in the Dark Ljubljana for Total Slovenia News. This version here on my blog is a more personal account of the dining experience. I’ve only skimmed the surface of the ingredients in our food. The rest are yours to discover. Plus, you should also know that the Dinner in the Dark menu changes every so often.