Idris Elba needs no introduction, but for some of you, his new wine bar might. Porte Noir opened in October 2021 and I’m not gonna lie - when the opportunity to visit was announced on our DesignMyNight team chat, things got…heated. We’re a group who unapologetically likes wine and who unapologetically loves Idris. Fingers on the buzzer, it was dog-eat-dog to snag the invite and although I have a disadvantage of four fat fingers and two fat thumbs, they clearly moved at the speed of lightning because before I knew it I was in an overpriced Uber on my way to King’s Cross.
Did you know that King’s Cross is one of London’s most successful redevelopment projects? What was once an industrial wasteland, here or around, 11 years ago is now a hot neighbourhood with a strong sense of community dolled up with galleries, bars and don’t even get me started on the restaurants. Making its new home in N10, Porte Noir now finds itself rubbing shoulders with the likes of The Lighterman, Granary Square Brasserie, German Gymnasium and Dishoom. Amongst the cult brands like Dishoom and funky venues like German Gymnasium where you can dine in an actual gymnasium, Idris' wine bar is well able to hold its own. Make your way down the cobbled back streets and you’ll find Porte Noir armed with a boutique wine shop at its entrance and to the right, a restaurant drenched in sunlight, separated by tall fridges packed with expensive bottled Champagne, hanging meats and wheels of cheese.
Arriving on a beaming Saturday afternoon, we had the choice to sit in or outdoors. Being Irish and very pale, we naturally decided to hole up in the restaurant to stop our skin from sizzling in the heat. If you’re a sun-worshipper however, the tables outside come bathed in sunlight and they have plenty of room for drinks and food. Another fun fact apart from Idris owning a wine bar is that he has his own super-premium wine brand, which is what his restaurant and wine bar is named after. Pressed with the question of what we’d like to drink, there was no way we were starting our meal off with anything but a glass of his own brand rosé. Crisp and light to the palette, it’s the kind of number that could get you into a lot of trouble. One, because it’s delicious and two, because it’s almost too easy to get through.
Porte Noir, like many many, venues offers brunch come the weekend, but they also offer daily specials if eggs royale isn’t giving you the feels. Sipping on our zippy glasses of rose, the first round of plates to grace the table were colourful showstoppers. The sea bass ceviche (£14) was a more than generous portion (possibly the biggest I’ve seen outside of my own kitchen), packed with flavour and fresh ingredients. A neat bunch of asparagus came dressed with a truffle sabayon sauce (£14). Watching my housemate turn silent was an indicator that the dish was doing the trick.
Every morsel gone, we had a welcome gap before our next plates arrived, which we spent clinking two new drinks: a fresh glass of Chablis ler Cru vau de Vey (£13) and Twinkle Spritz, poured with Dima vodka, elderflower, prosecco and soda (£14.50). Recommended by our server, the Chablis was the perfect pairing for my main dish: mussels with wild garlic (£16). Lifting the lid to the heavy black pot, clouds of steam revealed a mountain of plump mussels freckled with parsley. The opposite side of the table, my plus one tucked her canines into the croque madame (£12) and a crispy portion of truffle fries that came with a jacket of parmesan (£5.50). Topped with a sunny-side up egg, the inside of this golden toasty, when cut down the middle, opened the floodgates to a wave of gooey cheese and thick slices of salty ham. This bad boy ended up being so filling that when the dessert menus came around, only one spoon was on the table. Lime green with a thin biscuit-y base of chocolate, Porte Noir’s burnt matcha cheesecake (£9) was a dessert dream come true. Paired with their signature spiced espresso martini (£16) and the aperitiv Cynar (yes, my housemate was that full), it was the perfect ending to our brunchtime rendezvous.
The DesignMyNight Digest
Was Mr Elba present on my visit to Porte Noir? Unfortunately not. The lack in Idris was, however, made up for in many other ways: the attentive staff, the surprisingly good food and crisp glasses of wine that were all too easy to drink. Truth be told, while perusing the menu on my Uber journey from N2 to N10, I wasn’t necessarily blown away by the food offering. I was, however, pleasantly surprised at how great the food was. Fresh with plenty of attention to detail, I’d happily come back to this sun-trap for another evening of sipping, scoffing and sniggering in the sun.
💰 The damage: £101 for three courses, wine and cocktails (excluding service).
📍 The location: Gasholder 10, unit A, London N1C 4BY.
👌 Perfect for: laidback eating and drinks in the sun.
⭐ Need to know: leave room for dessert. The burnt matcha cheesecake is an absolute must.