Oliver Haenlein finds positive impact and high-level gastronomy working in perfect harmony at London’s Grain Store.
Choosing what to eat from the menu at Grain Store in King’s Cross is as challenging as it is stimulating.
The veg plays the protagonist in esteemed chef Bruno Loubet’s latest project, while the meat or fish emerges from the wings only for the occasional support role. Each dish is written in reverse to what one would normally expect; the animal protein is the last thing to be mentioned on each of the menu’s options.
Therefore hot seaweed sushi, glazed pak choi and black garlic puree comes with a little hake, while the buttermilk cauliflower, celeriac and preserved plum is accompanied by a modest portion of braised rabbit. Having your menu flipped on its head is a slightly confusing experience, but a refreshing one nonetheless.
“The amount of meat we eat isn’t sustainable,” Loubet tells me, as we sit together on upcycled furniture in his progressive eatery. “It’s bad for climate change and it’s bad for us. It just doesn’t make sense. So the main idea is that the vegetable is what drives the ideas on the plate. The veg isn’t the garnish, the meat becomes the compliment.”
Bruno follows the seasons stringently, and refuses to buy produce from South America or Africa. Co-owner Mark Sainsbury is a founding director of the Sustainable Restaurants Association, and Grain Store attempts to minimise its environmental impact at every level. The extraction fans in the kitchen, for example, are controlled by sensors so that they are operating at full power only when required.
The ethos of the place is a real draw, and the food is utterly delicious too. Loubet has looked to all corners of the globe to create an eclectic menu that refuses to adhere to any one cuisine. Even better, it manages to do this without becoming a generic whistlestop tour of the world’s gastronomic cultures.
Instead, salty miso merges seamlessly with tart slices of green tomato and perfectly charred octopus for my starter, while fiery Korean kimchi feels right at home with young onions, pickled turnips and charcoal pork loin for the main. My dining partner smiles and looks to the sky as she tucks into the baked onion, pickled walnuts, spiced bread sauce and roast wild duck – rich, sweet and thoroughly autumnal.
The murmur of the open kitchen, the attentive service and the mouth- watering food make the Grain Store a delight in itself. Add to this its innovative focus on sustainability, and you have absolute must-visit: guilt-free eating at its most exciting.