As a child I used to hope that the lights would go just before dinner. ‘Load shedding’ is what it was called back then, when the electricity would go, mostly just for a few hours, but sometimes for the whole night. We groaned loudly just as the lghts went, you could hear the sound of groans from every house in the colony.
But it also meant, dinner would be a simple fare. Nothing which involved too much cutlery, nothing with bones and nothing too time consuming. Most of the times, that meant it was going to be a roll dinner. A roll was a chapatti, which was neatly rolled up , perfect to hold in a hand and involved the least bit effort on the part of the cook or the consumer. Sometimes the roll had an omelette rolled into it, on other occasions it was simply a smear of Ghee, clarified butter, and a generous sprinkling of sugar.
Load sheddings were most common during the rains, and with the soundlessness due to the absence of the ambient noise from the whirring of fans, and buzzing of refrigerators, the sound of the rain used to be heightened.
That was the first thing I noted as I entered the spice studio at Alila Diwa. The sound of the water. they have these ground level fountains, which were literally gushing with water. It felt like we were in the midst of a heavy monsoon downpour, and the lights had gone.
I grasped at my husbands arm, as he held on to the wait staffs, as we were escorted to our table. We were seated at atable, where we had previously dined, and to dine in the same ambience, albeit only by moonlight was surreal.
I knew there was a glass top on the table, which held within it Indian spices in little square boxes. But now all I could make out was a black table top.
We were here to experience the dine in the dark.
As a food blogger, let me be honest, this was one of the most relaxing meals I have had in a long while. Why? Because as a food blogger, I uphold my role as a food chronicler very seriously; not one cup of coffee, or tossed sald, or even my sons weaning food is spared from being photographed. I do it compulsively. Unintentionally, even. But, not tonight. Just prior to leaving home I realised I only had 10 percent charge in my phone, I did not go back for my charging pack. I just let it be. I would not be needing my phone tonight. No phones are allowed to take picture of the meal, no flashes, and also no talking on mobile phones s allowed.
They called it an immersive experience. I was ready to dive right in.
We were served a thali with 6 main courses served in bowls, and an assortment of other nick nacks.
Having eaten plenty of thalis in our time, we decided to tackle this one in an anticlockwise direction, starting at 6 o clock, or from the food closest to us on our plate.
What followed was a delightful game of pick and tell. We tasted, and discussed what the said food item could possibly be. This game was great fun with the starters; we tasted a crispy fried, wanton type starter, which I was sure was chicken but turned out to be mashed banana or some such. Another stellar starter was the softest most moist shammi kebab. Now, traditionally shammi kebabs are made of Goat meat, or what we Indians call Mutton, but this one was made from Rajma!
The menu itself is unknown to us, and it is only after we exit the dine in the dark experience, that we receive a printed copy of the menu.
The meal after tthat was abit of a let down. A lack lustre boneless chicken gravy, an equally uninspired prawn dish. When I say uninspired, I don’t mean non tasty, it is just that I have had the pleasure of dining at Spice studio before, and their food, does every possible justice to the immenx=se scope and depth of Indian cuisine. With fluffy appams, and crumbly Malabaru porotas, and fiery chettinads, and buttery dal makhnis, there was so much they could have chosen from. But they stuck to the typical ‘wedding reception fare’ of a plain dal tadka, a tandoori roti, and aloo paratha. All very expected flavours, and familiar dishes. I call it ‘wedding reception fare’ because these kind of meals cater to the lowest common denominator; what dishes do most people know, and love, nothing out of the ordinary and therefore nothing extraordinary.
The desserts were a let down as well, gajar ka halwa and rajbhog. How I wish they had served us the celebrated and their award winning home made spice infused icecreams.
A dining in the dark experience needs to meet certain criteria, and many were met at the Alila Diwa, Goa. There should be no safety hazards, and thus all the chicken was boneless, and the sea food was prawns, with previous questioning of any allergies. No use of whole spices, and all the flavours were mild with no excessive use of chillies or spices. Dishes should be contrasting in texture so as to highten the sensorial value of the meal, and hear the starters worked wonderfully, we had creamy to crunchy, crip to pillowy. The textures were sorely lacking in their mains, why not a dal makhni with some granularity, a soft appam, or rumali roti. I understand all indian dishes are gravies, but more was expected, especially from spice studio.
The desserts needed contrast in flavours, or atleast temperature if not texture, hot gulab jamuns or jalebis with icecream, or use of dry fruits.
There are no ala carte orders, and no repeats of any of the dishes.
all in all it is a fun experience, well worth experiencing once maybe more. It is one of the top five romantic dinner options in Goa, according to me. No lights, no mobiles, you may not be able to gaze into each others eyes, but we could hear a newly wed couple giggling at a table close to ours, and well ,I leave the rest to your imagination.
It is a unique experience which honestly I wish more restaurants and especially resorts take to. The Alila Diwa property is fairly large, and theyhad dimmed the lights at the the corridors leading up to the restaurant and all lights were off at the main venue itself. It speaks to their commitment to keeping the diners in the dark, but also about conserving energy, atleast once a week. Reducing carbon imprint, encouraging people to disconnect from their phones, and connect with each other and their food; for these reasons, I would recommend the dine in the dark experience.