Review: A Sensory Experience

With the opening of Alchemy on Arbuthnot Road, ‘dining in the dark’ has finally come to Hong Kong. By Gayatri Bhaumik


First Impressions: A certain air of secrecy swathes Alchemy – the restaurant-bar combo trades on being able to tease its guests’ senses. As much as possible, they don’t want you to know what to expect, so when my friend Jess and I arrive, we’re the perfect first-time guinea pigs, having no idea of what was coming except that we’d be having dinner in the dark. Even on arrival there’s a sense of concealment. While guests are greeted by an open-air entryway boasting black-and-white tiled floors and dark wood, the venue itself is hidden behind an imposing sliding door, blocked by the hostess who stands guard behind her heavy desk.


The Venue:  Alchemy is a duplex, two-for-one venue. Guests start upstairs, in the elegant, cozy, library-like bar which serves up a full complement of delicious cocktails and intriguing light bites. We settle into one of the clusters of low, well-cushioned sofas as one of the hosts takes us through a ‘briefing’. We’re given a run-down of dos, don’ts, and just-in-case directives, before being guided through the choices on offer for dinner. Decisions made, we walk down a dimly-lit staircase as we head for the main 25-seater dining room.


We stop at a little alcove at the bottom of the stairs where we’re asked to deposit watches, phones – anything that may emit light – into small lockers. A warning for the ladies: the lockers are only big enough to fit a clutch bag, so leave the bigger purses at home. From the alcove, we meet our visually-impaired waiter and are guided into the main restaurant in a conga-line formation. As per its billing as a ‘dining in the dark’ restaurant, the room is pitch black, and we walk to our table slowly, gingerly feeling our way across the slightly rough floor (something I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I’d been able to see) and clinging to the walls.


Sitting down, Jess and I fall into fits of laughter as we’re reduced to employing tactile means of getting our bearings, feeling for the edges of the table, our cutlery, and wine glasses. I notice a tiny red dot of light near where I assume the ceiling is, and burst into a fresh round of laughter at the thought of what those watching the security cameras must capture when patrons think they’re under the cover of dark.


The Menu: Food is the biggest secret at Alchemy, and you’re given absolutely no idea of what your menu for the night will be – to ensure the element of surprise, the menu changes every Monday. During the briefing at the upstairs bar, diners choose from a three, four, or five-course menu – with options of vegetarian or non-vegetarian dishes – and can opt for wine pairings. Jess and I choose the three-course menu and the wine pairing. The anticipation of not knowing what you’re eating is part of the experience, so all I’ll say is each course of the French-inspired meal by chef Pascal Breant was  served as what could be called sampler platters, and while we enjoyed all the dishes, dessert was probably the favourite.


Final Thoughts: Being deprived of sight makes you realise how visual the eating experience is, and also heightens your sense of taste, giving you the opportunity to really appreciate the food; and being in total darkness, without distractions of any sort, means that you’re forced to make conversation with your dining companion the whole way through dinner, a rarity in the age of smartphones. All said though, Alchemy is about the gimmick of ‘dining in the dark,’ and while the food was enjoyable, it’s probably not somewhere you’d go back to in a hurry.

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