Grain Store, Kings Cross
Like many Londoners, I have a constantly-expanding ‘to visit’ list of restaurants, delis, bars, pubs, bakeries and many other eating and drinking establishments. My disposable income and free time is locked in a never-ending battle with the onslaught of openings, remodellings and re-imaginings that pepper the capital in any given week – every day the list lengthens and lengthens, lower priority entries get pushed further and further down, and I repeatedly baulk at just how much it would cost to eat at every single one of those restaurants.
Grain Store had occupied pride of place at the top of my list for at least three months before we finally managed to visit. Bruno Loubet’s ‘veg-first’ concept had me from hello, and once the positive reviews started rolling in, Grain Store was successfully fighting off all new pretenders for the ‘to visit – top priority’ crown. I should perhaps have been unsurprised to find that the rest of London seemed to be equally enthusiastic to visit. Getting a table proved to be something of a challenge, mainly as I find booking weeks in advance to be peculiarly traumatic – waiting in any context is a challenge for me at the best of times, and when food is involved it becomes a special kind of slow, painful torture.
Thankfully, late on a weekday evening last week the ring-fence of popularity opened just enough for us to sneak a table right at the back by the loos. Like Caravan next door, Grain Store has a big, inviting dining room – a buzzing, vibrant cacophony of talking and laughter and cooking smells and unfussy decor – with tables that are intimate enough to allow the atmosphere to be enjoyed without feeling the pressure of having to add to it. This is perfect date territory – no-one could ever be sad or awkward or embarrassed in a joyous room like this.
Our dinner started with savoury cocktails, which were indeed savoury. A truffle martini (£7.50) and a milky black velvet (milk stout reduction topped with champagne, £7.50) were curios, full of flavour yet constantly at war with the long-ingrained expectation that a cocktail will be sweet-driven above all else. However, the following onion bread with crème fraîche butter (£3) and focaccia with dukkah and olive oil (£4) starters were excellent, the former subtly enveloping that distinctive onion tang within the folds of each doughy, moist slice.
Grain Store boasts a menu of small to medium plates where the focus is most certainly on the vegetables. Rather than carrying each dish, the smaller meat portions here are an accompaniment to the plants – two veg and meat, if you will. Debate raged between us as to which plates would make the cut from the inviting selection, and we eventually decided to settle on a courgette, broad bean and prawn falafel dish (£6.50) and the peach, salted watermelon and basil salad with salmon confit (£7) for our first courses. The falafel were nothing less than moreish – gently seafood-y with that lovely deep-fried crunch, and nicely balanced by a dollop of a fresh raita on the side. However, the salad proved to be slightly more challenging to the palate, with each individual flavour struggling to find a place within the dish as a whole.
From our second courses, a butternut squash ravioli with sage and mustard apricots (£7) was an autumnal joy, while the lentil dahl, salsa and seabream offering (£14) was pleasant balance of soft pulses, crunchy onions and crisp fish. Dessert didn’t quite deliver to expectations – a white chocolate rice cripsy, dark chocolate mousse and almond ice-cream dish (£6) was perfectly pleasant but nothing more, while the spiced candied tomatoes and goat’s milk panna cotta (£6) proved difficult to finish. I’ve often thought that panna cotta has something of a childlike subtlety in taste and texture – it is a dish that should be gently encouraged with mild additions, rather than overpowered by strong flavours like those provided by the acidic tomatoes in this interpretation.
Grain Store’s dishes are inventive, yet familiar enough to be a gentle guide through a voyage of intriguing pairings and interpretations. This is accessible, enjoyable eating, but unfortunately something just didn’t quite click for me – there was none of that wonderful ‘tasting in colours’ sensation, no welcome assault on the palate that makes you breath deeply and savour every last mouthful. Grain Store has a wonderful menu, and I love the concept of bright, brash vegetables being the centre of every dish, but the plates on offer just need a little more attention to bring all those flavours into perfect harmony.
1 – 3 Stable Street
Total for two including drinks and 12.5% service: £77.06