When it opened in 2013, Grain Store epitomised the new-found confidence in that minty-fresh postcode, N1C.
It was all the more admirable for not being quite as accessible as Caravan next door. Vegetables here are given “equal billing” to meat and fish – if not the “starring role”, with head chef Bruno Loubet remarking at the time: “I just feel we have been eating too much meat.” And you can’t argue with the logic of that.
While suitably cavernous, the interior isn’t perhaps as exciting as the industrial minimalism of its neighbour, although that’s also its point of difference. Yet the vast gallery-cafe style space, all white chairs and theatrically open kitchen, has definite charms.
It also wins on its terrace, a far more relaxing proposition than Caravan’s hectic bustle. On a baking lunchtime in July, all around us flower and herb-filled planters, nurtured by the Global Generation (the team behind the nearby Skip Garden Cafe) help create a vibe more country garden than urban piazza. Lavender spills out, its scent tangible, and outsize parasols protect us from the glare of the Granary Square sun, made all the more potent by the concrete and glass beyond – not to mention the shimmering water jets.
We first visited the restaurant a couple of years back when it had been open a week or two. The star of the show? A humble cauliflower braised in buttermilk and caraway, rich and luxurious, served with a side plate of richly meaty devilled duck heart: a thoroughly memorable meal.
On this invited visit there’s still a happy emphasis on vegetables. Nursing a dry, crisp Riesling, we choose starters that, happily, are beautiful to look at: a pea tartlet is light as air, its pastry wafer-thin, but the filling is just the wrong side of creamy, its parmesan edge a little cloying somehow. Little parcels of shiny butternut squash ravioli come together effortlessly, however, any potentially overbearing sweetness allayed by pumpkin seeds and mustard apricots. I would leave out the rocket though; it’s never needed, is it?
In the spirit of the concept, we swerve flesh in favour of two fishy mains: hake “a la plancha” comes in a bowl vividly rubbed in black garlic puree, like an abstract painting, with big fronds of glazed pak choi and seaweed sushi. The only unnecessary touch in fact is a quarter lemon, which remains unsqueezed. A blushingly pink sea trout, hot smoked and yielding a deep earthiness, is accompanied by silky strands of courgette “spaghetti” and sticky roast endives, in a pool of rich kimchi butter: a winning match.
Unless you’re a kid, or you possess a sweet tooth, desserts – even at top restaurants – can be a bit “meh”. Here, a carrot cake cookie battles with a slightly overwrought white chocolate and lemon mousse; and yet a beetroot and chocolate cake proves moist, dark heaven, its cubes of citric grapefruit and earthy beetroot delivering a careful juxtaposition of taste.
And you don’t have to have a bottomless budget to enjoy Grain Store, either. They offer a daily special at £11, and the bar makes a calm, productive space to work, whether you’re freelance and ordering just a tea – or holding a business meeting.
On evening visits, we’ve been known to work our way through the cocktails, from their take on a negroni to a truffle martini. Created by mixologist Tony Conigliaro, whose focus is on unusual herbs and spices, they are as often savoury as sweet – and make for a fun talking point (should you be on a first date and need one).
The big restaurants continuing to line up around Granary Square will only work well if their quality is indisputable, and if there’s level competition between them. So it’s reassuring that Grain Store, one of its earliest inhabitants, still has what it takes as King’s Cross gears up to be a truly world-class foodie destination.