If you know Exmouth Market, you’ll know that the corner site opposite all-conquering Caravan has been through several incarnations. For years it was an unlikely branch of pizza chain Strada before a short-lived stint as the francophile Café Pistou, which closed earlier this year.
Now housing the latest opening from Grind, the seven-site coffee maestros who opened their first shop in 2011 off Old Street roundabout, its location on one of London’s most foodie streets may finally prove its making.
With ex-Soho House chef Kyle Boyce at the helm, the menu is short, safe and tempting. Full disclosure: I’ve never visited any other Grind (I know, I know) so approached it entirely afresh. A good thing, right?
We sit in the glow of a pink neon sign which enigmatically reads ‘Don’t just stare at it, eat it’. Okaaay. Happily the food (which isn’t on the plate long enough to be stared at) doesn’t appear pink itself, although the odd light does render smartphone photography useless – probably a good thing.
As with its predecessor, the interior is organised around a chic central marble-topped bar, with big windows offering people-watching from the safety of cosy banquettes. At one end of the room, however, is an unused space piled high with additional chairs stacked on tables, a little like a Greek taverna or town hall might. Perhaps they should pull a curtain to conceal it.
Anyway: let’s despatch the starters, fine but no special draw in themselves. A plate of heritage tomatoes gain interest from soaked croutons, seeds and creamy ricotta, while squid is tender, the batter crisp.
Mains are where things get interesting. Dodging crowd-pleasers like grilled chicken or a cheeseburger, we enjoy slices of rosy flat iron, the crust so carbonised, and yielding such a savoury hit, that a normally welcome sauce of béarnaise goes untouched. Skin-on-fries are fought over, too.
And yet the real masterclass here is crab tagliatelle: silken, lovely home-made strands of pasta glisten with big capers, herbs, generous hulks of white meat and summer-sweet tomatoes, its calm heat building to something hotter in the aftertaste.
Some advice: don’t ignore the tasty sides. Carrots, sliced in a barrel-shape, unforgivingly al dente, perch in a yoghurt flecked with salsa verde. And better still, a plate of purple sprouting and regular broccoli florets, blackened with thick stripes, bathe in a pool of green romesco, the classic Spanish sauce generally made with roasted almonds and red (not green) peppers. A winner: you could really just order this for lunch alone.
The thing to finish with – given the team’s credentials – is of course what’s reckoned to be the best espresso martini in London. But we swerve this for a Grind Coffee Liquor, a more interesting arabica bean-based proposition (says the waiter) made to a secret recipe, with a splash of cream. It’s so smooth and tongue-tingling you could probably down one every morning. For health reasons, of course.
Moving on, it’s worth underlining that prices are good (the steak is £10 without sides), and service more friendly than Caravan over the road.
And as for Exmouth Market itself? With its festoon lights and gentle thrum it’s as magical as it was when I first ate at Moro 20 years ago.