MICHELLE TOMPKINS enjoys a series of firsts in London, from dining in the dark to a cloudless view of the city from the Eye

"ROBERTO! Roberto!... ermmm, please may I go to the toilet?"

My sheepish request, hollered over the hubbub of a swanky London restaurant, momentarily brought the room to a standstill. Several people sniggered, partly with embarrassment but partly, I think, with relief that they weren't THE ONE. The one whose bladder gave first, the one who couldn't keep their legs crossed, the one who faced the ultimate humiliation of asking to be escorted to the loo.

But what else was I supposed to do after a cocktail, two glasses of wine and several glasses of water... in a restaurant so devoid of light that the blind and partially-sighted waiters are the only ones who can negotiate their way in and out and around the furniture?

Roberto arrived pronto - unperturbed by the prospect of taking a middle-aged woman to the toilet - and guided me expertly to the exit, where my eyes struggled to adjust to the (very) dim lighting afforded those who are caught short during their experience at Dans Le Noir. To re-enter, I waited patiently for him to return and whisk me back to my seat, the joker in him unable to resist spinning me around a couple of times en route to 'add' to the experience.

Confusion and disorientation are all part of the sensory experience at Dans Le Noir, and once the rising panic instilled by the claustrophobic darkness had subsided, it proved to be a fascinating experiment in the power of taste, smell and even aural ability.

We knew nothing about the food placed in front of us, except for opting for the ‘meat’ menu as opposed to the vegetarian, fish or ‘surprise exotic’ ones. It was up to us to literally feel our way around the plate (knives and forks are futile), savouring flavours and textures and debating with our dining neighbours on either side just what we might be putting in our mouths. The big reveal afterwards – of the menu as well as the faces of those neighbours – was every bit a part of the experience. Who knew that a humble cherry tomato could pack such a flavour punch, or that pork is virtually indistinguishable from chicken when you can’t see the colour?

This unique experience was part of a weekend of firsts in the capital, which also saw my first early morning bike ride around Hyde Park, my first chance to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and my first time on the London Eye without a cloud in the sky.

Our base for the weekend was in swanky Belgravia, at the equally swanky Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel. The 88-room boutique hotel sits among some of the biggest names in fashion – Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Chanel, Louboutin – while Harrods, with all its many hi-end temptations, is just a five-minute walk away.

The rooms are as plush as you’d expect in a hotel in that neck of the woods; our executive room was as big as the ground floor of my house, with a separate living area and a magnificent bathroom to wallow in to your heart’s content.

But there was no time for wallowing on the Sunday morning we were there, nor did we have time for a visit to the Peak Health Club & Spa at the neighbouring sister hotel, the Jumeirah Carlton Tower. Instead, we were up and at ‘em by 8.30am, the wind whipping through our hair as we worked up a sweat pedalling around the Serpentine.

The Jumeirah Lowndes has partnered with Kingston Bicycles to create four sit-up-and-beg style bikes for its guests to use. Featuring classic British icons such as red phone boxes, teacups and umbrellas, the bikes are available free of charge through the hotel concierge, with cycling guides to Belgravia and beyond provided by Tally Ho! Cycle tours.

Nervous of cycling on the busy London roads, we headed for Hyde Park five minutes away, but we needn’t have worried – no one surfaces much before 10am in London and the roads that had been roaring with traffic 12 hours earlier were deserted when we ventured out.

Hyde Park was spectacular in the early morning autumn sunshine and we spent a good hour exploring the landmarks like the Diana Memorial Fountain and the statue of Achilles before taking a slow ride back to the hotel.

It’s amazing what an hour of exercise can do for your appetite, and when we sat down for breakfast – too ravenous to even change out of our cycling gear – I was ready for the works. Cereal, fruit, bacon, eggs and toast demolished, we were eventually ready to shower and head out for the day.

It’s at least a half hour walk from Belgravia to the South Bank and the Coca-Cola London Eye, but it’s a walk so full of sights and landmarks that it seemed to take no time at all. On a gloriously sunny day, we stopped to admire the pomp and ceremony of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and posed for the obligatory pictures outside Parliament and Big Ben, just going with the tourist flow for a change instead of battling against it.

The queues at the Eye were building up when we eventually got there – no doubt because of the prospect of clear views – but with fast track ticket you jump (almost) to the front. I’ve been up in the Eye twice before but never on such a stunning day, and this time, with London bathed in sunshine, I really got to see the capital at its best.

Looking across from Battersea in the west to Canary Wharf in the east, with so much to take in, it struck me what a contrast it was from the day before, when I was deprived of one of my key senses and plunged into darkness. While Dans Le Noir had been a unique experience, I count my blessings that my world isn’t always lived with the lights off. I guess the underlying philosophy of the restaurant had finally sunk in.


Michelle Tompkins was a guest of the Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel, Lowndes St, Belgravia, London SW1X 9ES.

Double rooms start from £239 per night. To book call 0207 823 1234 or visitwww.jumeirah.com/jlh.

Dans Le Noir restaurant is in Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU. Call 020 7253 1100 or go to http://london.danslenoir.com to book

Standard tickets for the Coca-Cola London Eye are £21.50. Go towww.londoneye.com to book in advance, or to upgrade to fast track tickets at £27.95