Near the site of Google’s future London HQ in King's Cross, Business Traveller samples small plates and savoury cocktails created by chef Bruno Loubet and renowned mixologist Tony Conigliaro
BACKGROUND Following the success of boutique hotels the Zetter and the Zetter Townhouse in London’s Clerkenwell, owners Mark Sainsbury and Michael Benyan opened the Grain Store in June. Also in collaboration with chef Bruno Loubet, who oversees the on-site modern French bistrot in the Zetter hotel, and molecular cocktail aficionado Tony Conigliaro, who runs 69 Colebrook Row bar in Islington, the Grain Store sets out to do something different with its food and drink.
The restaurant is located in Granary Square, the rapidly developing canal-side pedestrian quarter behind King’s Cross station. It is the new site for Central St Martins College of Art and Design, as well as a number of other eateries such as pop-up Shrimpy’s (in a converted petrol station) and Caravan, which is next door to the Grain Store in the brown-brick Granary Building – the converted 19th-century warehouses are brought into the present day with a glinting silver zigzag painted across their exteriors.
The piazza itself has 1,000 choreographed fountains spurting out of the ground – in the day, children run among the waterspouts and, at night, they are illuminated a rainbow of different colours. The Grain Store has an al fresco terrace for 80 people – I sat out here on a summer’s evening and watched the sun go down, the moon come up and the Shard glimmering in the distance, and was impressed by how continental and civilised it all felt.
It was recently announced that Google would be opening its new London headquarters on a nearby 27-hectare plot of land by 2017. Construction will begin next year and will see the first purpose-built Google campus anywhere in the world, with cafés, shops and a rooftop garden. Next to the St Pancras Eurostar station, the £500 million renovation of King’s Cross is also nearing completion, with the dramatic latticework roof looking down on the concourse unveiled in the spring.
THE RESTAURANT Inside the Grain Store is a huge open-plan interior with exposed pipework running across the ceiling, filament light bulbs and a bustling show kitchen (all de rigueur, it would seem, for every trendy restaurant these days). Designed by Russell Sage, the concept was inspired by the idea of an “exploded kitchen” whereby ingredients, storage jars, tins, copper pans, bottles and attractive packaging are on display throughout the space, and diners can see food and drink being prepared while they eat.
There is a variety of places to sit, from high stools at counters to white painted chairs at chunky wooden tables. The space manages to feel expansive and industrial, while at the same time homely and warm. And if you wander through to the washrooms, make sure you pass the dessert station with delicious-looking fruit tarts. Tables are set with cloth napkins, cutlery, candles and menus printed on thick paper – grass green for food, sea green for cocktails and lavender for wine.
THE FOOD “There are no geographical boundaries to the influences that have inspired the eclectic menu. It's the culmination of Loubet's extensive travels and the years dedicated to his beloved vegetable patch. Although many dishes have a meat or fish element, this menu gives vegetables equal billing, if not the starring role,” reads the website.
“Conigliaro has taken inspiration from the Greco-Roman approach to wine, experimenting with the introduction of herbs and spices to flavour them. Conigliaro and Loubet have also collaborated on elements of their respective menus, matching savoury cocktails with specific dishes, combining kitchen techniques with processes from Tony's laboratory [above 69 Colebrook Row].”
Being vegetarian, I was looking forward to this dining experience, and as someone who enjoys a good cocktail from time to time, intrigued to see food pairings suggested and a selection of savoury tipples. (Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the Truffle Martini.)
For those who find it hard to choose, there is a £35 per person “surprise” dinner menu, but otherwise there is a choice of ten starters and about a dozen main courses – all well suited for sharing. There is also a daily special from the Josper oven (on this occasion it was lamb) and vegetarian and vegan dishes (of which there are about eight) flagged up with carrot/leaf icons.
If you are more inclined to go the meat/fish route, you might begin with a plate of sprouting beans and seeds, miso aubergine, crispy citrus chicken skin and potato wafer; some roast pepper salad, artichoke and anchovy dip; and perhaps a chilled clear lobster Bloody Mary. (The first is paired with the Cedar Wood Lemonade made with Fino sherry, lemon juice and soda.)
There is plenty of choice when it comes to mains/larger sharing plates, many of which combine unusual flavours and ingredients. Try the buttermilk and caraway braised cauliflower with wood baked onions and devilled duck heart; or the young leaf, runner bean and pistachio salad with chermoula grilled quail. The peach, salted watermelon and basil salad with salmon confit can be served as a small or large portion, while the corn and quinoa tamale with salsa and sticky pork belly goes nicely with Granary Martini (mustard vodka and dry vermouth).
My companion and I started with chunks of focaccia bread dipped in olive oil and dukkah (a mix of crushed seeds), and a Twinkle – an aperitif that combines champagne with elderflower, vodka and a twist of lemon peel. Divine.
We then moved on to rustic crudités vegetables with cashew and yeast dip and olive “soil”; an endive, pear, runner bean and potent Roquefort salad with blobs of smoked pepper jelly and a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts; and baked beetroots, pickled onions and creamy goat labneh with dill dressing.
The presentation was fun, especially with the crudités served in a flowerpot, and the Green Martini, which came with a tiny nasturtium leaf floating on the surface, bejeweled with a dewdrop of Beefeater gin.
For the mains, it was a spicy merguez sausage of aromatic vegetables with preserved lemon and roasted peppers (perfumed and rich), and thick, moreish chilli con veggies and perfectly cooked wild rice served in pots on a wooden board. The latter went amazingly well with a tumbler of Grenache Blanc wine “aromatized” with smoked paprika cordial.
With just enough appetite for dessert, I ordered the horseradish ice cream (much more subtle than you might think) with sickly sweet strawberry and balsamic jam and caper-flavoured nasturtium leaves; while my friend went for the winning white chocolate rise crispy, dark chocolate mousse and almond ice cream combo.
VERDICT It’s hard to fault the Grain Store – the cocktails are unusual and sophisticated, the food inspiring yet comforting, and the setting cosmopolitan and trendy. Once the work on King’s Cross is finished and the Google HQ has opened, this will be one of the coolest areas in London. In fact, with restaurants like this, it already is.
PRICES Starters £3-£10.50; mains £10-£16. Cocktails £7.50; Greco-Roman wines £6.50 a tumbler/£24 a 500ml jug. Bottles of wine from £20.
OPENING HOURS Mon-Wed 11am-11.30pm, Thurs-Sat until 12am, Sun until 4.30pm.
CONTACT Grain Store, Granary Square, 1-3 Stable Street; tel +44 (0)20 7324 4466; grainstore.com