Monday, 24 June 2013
Grain Store, Kings Cross
As if it wasn't enough to have one beautiful, modern restaurant, Granary Square (Kings Cross), home of Caravan, now has two. The latest, Grain Store, is commendable for two main reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, it's very good; you'd have to be a real curmudgeon not to be impressed by the décor, the food and (to only slightly lesser of an extent) the service in this ambitious new restaurant. Secondly, it's a relief that finally, albeit slowly, London is shifting its focus away from burgers and hot dogs and the other American diner staples and taking inspiration from different and (let's face it) healthier places.
That's not to say Grain Store is derivative, not at all - we tried a huge number of dishes of style, colour and finesse, and aside from the odd Clove-Club/Noma presentation quirk here and there, there was some real innovation going on. I already knew Bruno Loubet was a gifted chef from a visit to his original Bistro in Clerkenwell a few years back. What's interesting about Grain Store is that it's completely unlike his first place in almost every respect. There is no attempt to further the "brand" Loubet here; there are no "signature dishes"; Grain Store is no proto-chain or Loubet-lite in the vein of Brasserie Blanc or Heathcotes. It is just another accomplished, grown-up restaurant which plays to a different set of the chef's strengths and impresses in a whole new set of ways.
Oh, except maybe if you're unlucky. On the long walk to the toilets there is a quite hilariously bad table, with two chairs positioned facing a dark corner of the room. Whoever decided this was a suitable place to plonk paying guests for dinner needs to reassess their restaurant design career. There are also a row of miserable, lonely bar stools right next to the entrance to the bathrooms, where if you were sat you would also quite naturally assume someone hated you. So on booking, just make sure you ask for a table away from the loos, and you'll be fine.
The cocktail list, developed by Tony Conigliaro of Zetter Town House/69 Colebrooke Row fame, is worth a shufty while you're waiting for your table. The innovation applied to the food is paralelled here - and I was a particular fan of the Twinkle, containing vodka, champagne and elderflower cordial. "Butter and hay champagne" just tasted like a glass of champagne though (albeit a nice one), so perhaps some of the staff still aren't fully up to speed.
We went for the five-course tasting menu, because generally five courses that the kitchen itself chooses for you are likely to be the five best they do, plus quite fancied the sound of the pigeon special so ordered that too. First to arrive was a lump of bark covered in pine needles (there's that Clove Club thing I mentioned earlier) topped with two excellent mushroom croquettes, perfectly fried and full of woodland flavour.
Then this, a little flowerpot full of radishes, which you roll in a "cashew and yeast" dip then in something called "olive soil", a pile of dessicated dried black olives. On the same plate were two slices of rye bread covered in seaweed butter and topped with the miracle of biology that is the "oyster leaf", a succulent from coastal areas up north (Scotland I believe) which tastes, however unlikely this sounds, exactly like oyster. Honestly, you should try it. Look at the presentation, too - stunning.
Beetroot, pickles and "goat labneh" (sort of a yoghurt made with goat's milk) continued the theme of visually attractive and summery, as did something with very lightly cured salmon and slices of peach and watermelon. Not a combination I'd tried before, or one I'd expect to work on paper, but there it is anyway, and very nice it was too.
This next course was I think extra to the tasting menu, and something that the kitchen was trying out for the first time. "Lobster and elderflower soup" was rich and gently seafoody, with a base of cool lobster jelly which dissolved in the mouth in the most extraordinary way. In fact, it was so good it didn't really need the chunks of rather tasteless cold lobster floating in it, which only distracted from the smooth textures elsewhere.
Butternut squash ravioli, and courgette, broad bean & prawn falafel were each very good examples of their type, playing with the form without losing sight of tradition or context. Also I should say a special word about the broad beans which accompanied the falafel because they were probably the best I've ever eaten anywhere, like little sweet flavour bombs.
Corn & quinoa tamale with pork belly and lamb belly on cucumber were each also very good, the pork mixture in the tamale being tender and satisfying, and the lamb belly skewers cooked just-so, like a sort of deconstructed kebab. On a stick.
Pigeon was always likely to be my favourite dish (it usually is, in any given restaurant), but Grain Store gets extra points for cooking it in a very smokey Josper grill to lovely pink (quite an achievement given other recent Josper-related disasters I've suffered) and serving it with an artichoke mousse of some kind served in the shell.
A goat's milk panacotta with candied tomatoes isn't perhaps quite as weird as it sounds, but it was still pretty weird and I certainly preferred the light panacotta itself to the tomato element. Even so, in the context of the amount of dishes we'd tried and the amount of invention going on, one slight dud is pretty good going.
A bottle of Zinfandel and the aforementioned cocktails bumped the bill up to £137 with service, so Grain Store isn't about to win any budget dining awards, but as I've banged on about to tedium in the past, value for money can occur at many different price brackets. And because you can see the effort, skill and love going into the food (literally while you eat - you may have seen open kitchens before but I bet quite as open or dramatic as this), you are guaranteed to walk away happy. Just make sure you're not sat near the loos.