Despite having read lots about it, I arrived feeling unsure/nervous. Going down a non-descript alleyway, wondering if I was in the right place, did not help. However, Germ (one of the owners) welcomed me by name and I knew it was going to be an incredible experience.
Germ explained his 'dining in the dark' project is not linked to any of the others around the world. He, and his partner (Tu), act alone. He outlined the concept of the place and I was impressed with his genuine passion for it all and his desire to help blind, visionally impaired and deaf people.
The 'reception' room is stylishly furnished and it started with me getting a delicious alcoholic welcome cocktail, while picking the Asian mystery menu with three paired mystery wines.
Then a deaf member of staff gave me a blindfold and explained a wooden puzzle I had to complete, while wearing it. I did badly at this task and already began to appreciate the frustrations of not being able to see.
After handing over anything that could omit light (eg my iPhone), I was then introduced to my friendly, sweet and helpful blind waiter (Nghia) who led me through a series of heavy curtains with my hands on his shoulders to guide me. It was nerve-racking to have to rely on a stranger so much.
At the table the arrangement of glassware, cutlery etc was explained. A table near me were talking loudly and I almost thought they were sitting at my table, distance is difficult to judge in the dark.
The only light in the room was a small red 'dot' from a smoke detector and it was incredible what a focus this became for me.
There were then 4 starters, 4 main courses and three desserts, each course with a paired wine. The other couple left during my appetizers and it felt very lonely in the dark alone.
The food containers come on wooden boards and so, with the detailed instructions you get from your waiter, there is little chance of knocking things over but I did manage to spill food over myself while eating.
Two girls arrived during my main course and the three of us ended up chatting, as we tried things. It was amazing how much better this made me feel. The excellent dessert wine, in the correct glass, also helped.
By the time I left I was feeling very comfortable & happy and found relying on my waiter, to get me out of the room in one piece, far easier. I guess because a level of trust had been established during our interactions, in the dark, during dinner. The wine also helped me relax.
On the way out Nghia presented me with a non la (Vietnamese conical leaf hat) for Issy. I was so touched by this sweet thoughtfulness.
When I met Germ again he had three blindfolds, in different sizes, for Issy, as they were not sure of his Issy's size. This illustrates this guy's incredible attention to detail.
Germ used an iPad to show what I had eaten and drunk. I was stunned by how much I had misidentified, how complex/sophisticated the dishes were and how many incorrect assumptions I had made.
Germ ended by explained Tu and his plans to open upstairs as a restaurant where you can see but deaf staff serve.
🐻🐻🐻🐻🐻🐻 (6 out of 5 ‘teddies’) - it was a special, and humbling, experience anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh City should try. Be ready for an emotional roller coaster and evening of laughs. The extra 'teddy' is for Issy's mask & non la and Germ's infectious enthusiasm. My tip: wear a shirt you do not mind spilling things on and order the dessert wine.