Indeed, just as London seemed tired to ideas, another brasserie here, another steak house there, a new Nordic approach once again, Bruno Loubet & team have pulled off the seemingly impossible in crafting a genuinely original restaurant. Open to the public for the first week, it already feels special, and it already feels complete. We almost never go to a new restaurant in its first weeks, believing they deserve breathing space to settle in before you take their measure, but at The Grain Store, we were reassured by the powers that 'they're ready now', hence our visit.
While Bruno Loubet is the man behind the pass, we should more properly note The Grain Store is a collaborative effort with long time partners Michael Benyan and Mark Sainsbury, which is important because this is the team behind the immensely successful Zetter Hotel and The Zetter Townhouse, so there's plenty of experience (and dare I say money) at work here. And with this project two years in the making, the time has been used wisely, which means the restaurant is now exactly what they wanted and the quality shows.
But don't get us wrong here, quality does not imply stuffy, and it only means serious where it needs to be (like the cooking), but there is a pervasive sense of fun throughout with quirky touches like the after dinner drinks trolley in a pram (scroll down the photos for that). And while many restaurants now have a window into the kitchen, a kitchen table even, here the dining room and the kitchen are more intimately joined with everything open: it's like every table is the kitchen table. And with the bar running the length of the wall opposite, much of the dining room is right in the heart of the action.
With Bistrot Bruno Loubet being the restaurant opened on Bruno's return from Australia, it was very much the restaurant everybody expected of him to open, namely French. It quickly secured a stellar reputation because Bruno can seriously cook. Yet The Grain Store is the restaurant Bruno has had in his head for the past 20 years, but only now was the time right to launch it, for him, and the wider audience. As for the food here, I can put it no more succinctly than they can, so this is quoted direct from their website:
There are no geographical boundaries to the influences that have inspired the eclectic menu,– it's the culmination of Bruno 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.
To be clear then, this is not a vegetarian restaurant - though vegetarians will love it - but it changes the relationship of the protein to the rest of the plate. Accordingly, on descriptions, the protein comes last, so the menu reads "young leaves, green beans & pistachio salad, chermoula grilled quail". Chef Bruno tells us that the menu is constructed by considering the vegetables first and then deciding what protein should accompany it.
It does mean you'll need a minute or two longer than normal to choose your food because you need to get your head around the reverse order, as well as the self described eclectic mix, and while such a menu would be positively dangerous in lesser hands, Bruno Loubet brings a magic touch to ensure that everything here is spot on. Bruno's cooking has always been about getting the full flavours out of ingredients, often with traditional and time intensive techniques, and here his years of experience pay dividends.
We start with a chilled lobster 'Bloody Mary' that promises a taste of summer. It not only combines a stunningly perfect lobster with tomatoes that really taste, but also a cocktail shaker with tomato water and traces of celery and vodka adding depth, but further seeming like a bonus when the solids are consumed and you lap up with a spoon your 'Bloody Mary'. Sprouting beans & seeds, miso aubergine, crispy citrus chicken skin, potato wafer as the other starter equally delights and a shiitake mushroom dumpling in a lobster broth leaves us near speechless for hitting the notes of near perfection.
With the chef kindly sending out some dishes for us to try, we were able to delight in all sorts from the menu, and everything here was cooked with an assured confidence providing balance, well judged seasoning and depth. We've made similar comments about Bruno's food at the Bistrot, this is food to be enjoyed and mains of 'spiced mash, mint pickled cucumber, raw snowball turnips, broad beans and confit lamb' and 'sticky rice, kimchi cabbage & stuffed chicken wings steamed in lotus leaf' were exactly that. Fortunately, the menu informs you that 'doggy boxes' are available to take away what you can't eat at the table because you liked the sound of it so much you over-ordered.
We predict The Grain Store will be a huge hit because it has so much going for it. You can book a table, but some tables will be held back for walk ins (and it's big, seating around 120); the inside is attractively and stylishly turned out, but there's outside seating also, so you can enjoy the weather and a traffic free square. We haven't even had space to mention the bar created by Tony Conigliaro. But most importantly, people will come here for the food because not only is it good, it's properly original. In a London restaurant scene where a few ideas are now being spread thinly across many new restaurant openings, The Grain Store is a breath of fresh air.