Noir: Curating an Avant-Garde French Culinary Experience in Lagos
“Noir” means “black” in French, and having the only French restaurant in the world’s most populous Black city named accordingly is quite thoughtful. On our visit, we met co-owner Marie-Louise Igbinedion, whose 15-year career in different hospitality establishments has spanned several countries: Switzerland, Massachusetts (USA), Ghana, and Nigeria.
The restaurant shares a building with the delicatessen shop La Pointe, a fitting wine cellar for the full French culinary experience. We visited on a Friday, right when they receive their fresh seafood from Europe. The restaurant has a beautiful art collection and a glass wall that displays the cosmopolitan iconography of Victoria Island.
For a start, we had the Prawn Bisque, which was described as “thick, rich prawn soup served with a bread stick, aromatic herbs, and truffle oil.” This classic French appetizer is a strained broth derived from prawns, cognac, and other ingredients. Bisque is a method of extracting flavour from crustaceans by simmering aromatics to create a deeply flavoured stock, which is then strained, simmered, and pureed. With its creamy and smooth texture, Noir’s version, accompanied by a bread stick heavily seasoned with herbs (it looked like some sort of garlic bread), tasted quite distinct.
It was refreshing, especially with the truffle oil generously drizzled on top—a contemporary trend in the culinary world. I find that some brands of truffle oil do not incorporate the layered undertones of fresh truffles. However, this oil was well-suited to the dish. It didn’t overcomplicate the simplicity of a fresh bisque.
Our second appetizer was stellar—the Escargots à la Bourguignonne, described as “French snails in fresh herbs and garlic butter, served with bread croutons.” It was a variant of snails that are foreign to Nigeria, and the dish was not paired with the usual peppered stew. Instead, it was prepared with a sauce quite similar to a pesto—and it was absolutely delicious and fresh. The bread croutons paired well with the garlic butter also, in a way that didn’t require tea like we’re used to in Nigeria.
Instead we went with Noir’s specialties: a cocktail called the Rose & Cucumber and the mocktail, Elf Fizz. Mocktails do not contain liquor, and restaurants and bars sometimes forget that not everyone drinks alcohol, but Noir is an exception. Including the Elf Fizz amongst other options on the menu was again thoughtful.
The Rose & Cucumber is made with premium gin, rose water, cucumber syrup, lemon juice, and rose petals. The handpicked rose petals gave the drink a soothing look. I used to think drinking rose water was rather pretentious, as I considered it to be merely an anti-aging toner. So imagine my surprise to discover a mix of rose, gin, and fresh cucumbers. It tasted like absolute wealth, a common trait we attribute to the French.
The Elf Fizz mocktail was made of elderflower syrup, vanilla, lemon, lime, and cranberry juice topped with 7-Up. Imagine ballerinas, but this time in a glass! It was that elegant. The drink was moderately sweet and tasted, surprisingly, almost better than the cocktail.
The most noteworthy fact about this mocktail was its almost magical thirst-quenching power. This is what you want to have in the scorching sun. It leaves a cool aftertaste in your mouth, which is also great for your breath. Yes, the elderflower plant is a popular ingredient in mouthwashes due to its cleansing properties. I have to commend Noir’s unconventional pairings with components that you wouldn’t think to find in a drink menu, maybe a skincare lab as elderflower like rose water is also used for cosmetology as well as medicinal purposes.
We intended to have our main course with wine but realised that the long lasting ice in our drinks didn’t dilute or destroy our palate, so accordingly we moved on to the mains without the wine.
For the entrée (main course), we had the Filet Mignon described as “the Charolais French Steak,” the most tender cut of beef on the menu. As explained by Marie-Louise, the Charolais is a breed of taurine beef cattle from Charolais in eastern France, which tend to be large-muscled (with cows weighing over 900kg).
Noir is the only restaurant in Lagos that offers stone cooking. The most exhilarating experience was live cooking the Charolais beef right on our table on a black rock grill, which is a sourced lava stone with honed finish—an age-old method of stone grilling. It required very little cooking, so don’t get put off by the idea of cooking your own steak. When it was done, the beef tasted just like butter, melting instantly upon the first nibble. I chose the Café de Paris sauce to accompany my steak because of its name that implied a French experience. It had capers and cream and was quite different from the regular black pepper sauce. Nevertheless, it was delicious.
We moved on to the Seared Salmon Fillet, which was labelled “pan-seared Norwegian salmon fillet served with sautéed spinach and thick fish-base sauce.” And again, it didn’t disappoint. Salmon has become one of popular culture’s favourite dishes, and I absolutely recommend Noir’s version. The fish-base sauce is to die for and did not taste fishy at all. It was a rich gravy with ingredients you couldn’t really guess. That, to me, is art—the ability to create something unique in a subtle way.
The proteins were accompanied by Potato Gratin Dauphinois, potatoes sliced and baked in cream, originating from the Dauphiné region of south-east France. The potatoes are usually sliced in rounds and layered in a buttered earthenware dish rubbed with garlic. The potatoes complemented the hearty texture of the filet mignon while at the same time enhancing the lighter salmon.
The Chocolate Fondant, also known as petit gateau, is one of the most raved about desserts in the world. This French dessert gained popularity in New York during the 90s, as it became a major reference in American TV shows and a staple in upscale restaurants.
The edges of the miniature chocolate cake were perfectly crunchy. It opened up to ooze a hot, smooth filling mimicking molten lava. The fondant was accompanied by the best vanilla ice cream I have ever tasted. Most ice creams are an overload of sweetness, but this was subtly sweet and perfectly complemented the dark chocolate of the dessert. I imagine that pairing the fondant with the regular sweet ice cream would create a sugar rush that only four-year-olds require.
Noir describes itself as a first of its kind, French-inspired culinary experience that combines fine dining with a fun, friendly, and warm environment, while giving Lagosians a taste of Paris through delectable dishes. And it did just that. What I love the most about Noir is how it doesn’t try to adulterate authentic French cuisine by incorporating indigenous Nigerian spices. It takes the French experience seriously, and that, to me, is what authenticity is about.
March 15, 2019
March 13, 2019