Probably worth warning: this is a long review, as Nox is as much about the experience of dining in the dark as the quality of the food itself. And that takes time to describe.
So my companion and I arrived, received a friendly welcome, and were offered drinks in the bar. It was all achingly modern and shiny and oh-so-cool in there, so, curmudgeonly old fogey that I am, I was already starting to have my doubts. All the more so when it took the bar guy (Caucasian and with an accent I couldn’t place – sounded like a hybrid of Dublin and Dresden) about 6 or 7 minutes to get my companion a glass of tap water.
Still choking back the lingering taste of briny South China Sea some minutes later, we were led to our table by our waiter, Hafiz (who was both a thoroughly nice chap and efficient, by the way). And this is where things started to get good.
First, for my companion and me, pretty much the entire dinner conversation revolved around guessing – somewhat loudly and enthiusiastically - what each dish was (no doubt to the annoyance of other diners), and ‘tabletop management’ - by which I mean there was a lot of: ‘where are your hands? I am moving my beer bottle – it is now in the middle of the table, don’t knock it over… where is the bottle of water? And what’s that dripping on my leg?’ But it was all a lot of fun.
Hafiz taught us how to pour the water (you stick your finger in the glass so you know when it is getting full): I poured my companion’s water with no trouble, and buoyed by this blinding feat of dexterity, I tried to do my own… and missed the glass altogether, a fact that only dawned on me when my knee started to soak…
Second, and unlike me, the waiting staff were impressive: they never knocked anything over, despite my constant worrying (my beer bottle - a Mac White, since you ask - was somewhat tall, heavy and highly knock-overable). But they never made any mistakes. They also seemed to have an instinctive knowledge of when we were finished with each course.
So, the food. Nox means ‘night’ in Latin, by the way (thank God for a classical education, eh?), but with Desmond Lee – an erstwhile understudy of Gordon Ramsay – in charge, there were no kitchen nightmares here, I can tell you.
You get three courses, each with four small bowls of food. Every single item ranged from good to superb. And I don’t have photos of any of them, of course, so the images below are just to get your imaginative juices going, shed some suggestive light on what I am describing, and are only meant as approximations of what we actually ate that night.
And finally, being in the dark room like that was like being in casino: we totally lost track of time. It felt too quick: we were served quickly, and swiftly served again as soon as we were finished with each course. I worried that we weren’t savouring the food enough: it felt like we were eating like philistines, scoffing our food for what felt like only 30 minutes, max. And yet in reality we spent nearly 2 hours at Nox.
Here is a list showing what we had, and what I thought I was eating at the time. When we finished, one of the staff showed us on an iPad what the food had been, but I didn’t have the chance to make notes, and she whipped through it pretty quickly (I suspect on purpose), so I haven’t got all the details of the Nox menu, unfortunately.
(You have to keep quiet when they are telling you about the food as there is a risk of spoiling the surprise for other people sitting in the bar who haven’t eaten yet. No doubt the punishment for any indiscretion would be to be force-fed their entire residual stock of oysters.)
Anyway, here is what we had, from memory:
- White asparagus with a small salad (thought it was: a little salad with some undefined tender-stemmed vegetable) – nice enough, nutritious, asparagus was tender, but not very asparagus-y;
- Shrimp with watermelon and feta cheese (thought it was: prawns with melon and feta cheese) – this was a brilliant idea and tasted exceptionally good – sweet watermelon plus salty cheese plus firm shrimp: genius;
- Truffles (thought it was: truffles) – say no more: they were truffles, so they were great;
- Can’t remember what the lady told us (thought it was: a kind of thick tomato soup or sauce with croutons) – perfectly ok, I guess, but I’m neither a tomato soup nor a crouton fan.
- Duck with puy lentils (thought it was: chicken and lentil stew) – this was very moreish; could have sworn it was chicken, though. I guess the pleasant poultry greasiness of it should have told me it was duck.
- Pork belly with beetroot (thought it was: pork belly with beetroot) – just like the inspired shrimp/watermelon/feta combo, this was a brilliant idea and tasted bloody marvellous.
- Cod (thought it was: white fish in a creamy sauce) – absolutely fine, tasted of a Young’s Admiral’s Pie (I mean that as compliment, believe it or not).
- Wagyu beef in a spicy sauce with vegetables (thought it was: duck curry – d’oh!) – very spicy (and even overpowered the beef, I thought), but delicious. The sauce reminded me of the aubergine curry you get with the boiled rice in Banana Leaf Apolo (which I love), and if that isn’t a totally unhelpful analogy to a reader, I don’t know what is.
- Strawberry and blackberry panna cotta (thought it was: strawberry and blueberry crème brûlée, and by confusing the two desserts, I expose myself as the rank amateur foodie that I am) – I loved this: sweet, crammed with berries, fabulous.
- Pear tart (thought it was: apple crumble) – nice enough is all I will say, and I didn’t detect a pear flavour at all.
- Banana and chocolate crumble with yoghurt (thought it was: a banana and chocolate custard) – a dish whose quintessence can only be summed up with that entirely apposite child-speak word: yummy!
- Pineapple sorbet (thought it was: pineapple sorbet… although I could have sworn the first mouthful tasted of satsuma) – very good, but just a fruit sorbet when all is said and done.
One or two of my comments above have been grudging in their praise, so I ought to be clear that overall, the food was absolutely excellent.
First, I suppose one strength of the shrimp starter and the pork belly main is that they might, arguably, have not looked appetizing if we had been able to see them before eating them. The beauty of eating in the dark is that the chef can overcome the ‘prejudice’ of the diner who sees a dish she doesn’t fancy (judging from its appearance) and would ordinarily avoid.
So, as you can see: Nox – definitely not noxious at all, and dining in the dark is guaranteed to raise you out of your gloom. And unlike my puns, the food here is far from tasteless. The place made me smile. I was sitting in the dark. So I wore a Dark Smile.
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http://www.noxdineinthedark.com/ - Nox: Dine in the Dark website.