Here’s a post to prove that it’s not only ‘abroad’ where the culinary buzz is happening. As every Londoner knows, this city is on such a gastro roll that it’s impossible to keep up with new openings, foodie trends and, yes, (g)astronomic prices. What’s more, the scene is truly international. The solution to staying abreast? Just go with the flow, stay ‘local’ (which for me means most of north, central and a slice of east London) and when a press lunch comes up, grab it.
So the other day I was delighted to get to sample the Grain Store (pic below), one of Kings Cross’ hip new babes, located next to the much lauded Caravan (run by the Kiwi brigade). Bruno Loubet (above) is the man who flicks the pans here when he’s not down the road in Clerkenwell at his ‘Bistrot‘ in the Zetter Hotel, a landmark venue known for its ultra-cool designer look and clientele.
Here in Kings Cross there’s a totally different feel to Clerkenwell, as we are in the heart of one of the biggest regeneration projects in Europe (or is it THE biggest?) – which is ripping the guts out of what was once a run-down semi-industrial backyard to two major railway stations. Prostitution, clubs and various forms of low life were part of the heady mix, but today cranes groan over the rooftops while taxis drop off besuited clients for business lunches.
With the Eurostar terminus spectacularly ensconced in St Pancras and its neighbouring Victorian beauty converted into a stunning hotel and glitzy brasserie (the Gilbert Scott, watched over by Michelin-starred Marcus Wareing), attention has swivelled to the backside, where restaurants, an art school, an arts and media hub and soon a shopping centre and apartments are taking shape. Yes, boom boom boom.
So last summer Loubet moved into the front row of a red brick Victorian granary to conjure up a striking mix of high-tech industrial style with recycled and vintage. On the food front, this Bordelais cunningly introduces hints of tropical Oz, having lived in Queensland for nine years with his wife, Catherine, who was closely involved in conceiving the restaurant. There’s a definite whiff of the Aussie outback too in some recycling elements (notably the loos), while the main restaurant space has that Beaubourg aesthetic of revealed ventilation pipes et al. Plenty of comforting quirkiness too (I really dislike those ultra-chic, modern restaurants with zero soul), and a mini food-shop to boot.
On the plate, quality fusion rules. As I was there at the invitation of the Noosa Food & Wine Festival, our five-course lunch veered crazily across the equator and down towards the antipodes. In harmony, the winter sun blasted across the table (the restaurant faces due south – I can’t wait to get back to its vast terrace in a few months’ time) as we worked our way south to our stomachs. Some unusual wines, mainly French and Australian, were judiciously paired.
First off (above) was a light appetite-opener of slow-roasted tomatoes, slippery goat curd with fennel pollen and a whimsical puff of an onion and garlic ‘pot bread’ served, yes, in a terracotta flower-pot. Totally intriguing and absolutely edible.
Onwards to the sea where I loved the delicately presented scattering of Cornish crab with coconut and mint pickled cucumber in a citrus dressing. That one slipped down in seconds. Next came wood roasted sea bass with a perfectly crisp skin but too big a hit of vanilla in the butter. Then followed what was the star of the lunch for me: roast suckling pig with chilli salt chips and banana vinegar – you can tell from the pic below just how perfect the textures were, moist and crisp.
And to finish, a gentle combination of buttermilk panacotta with pineapple, ginger and punchy passion fruit made a fitting end to our gastro cruise.
Although Loubet has declared that as the world is becoming far too carnivorous, he’ll give vegetables central casting, he has clearly not forgotten how to cook and deliver his meat. I’m more than happy to see vegetables honoured and nurtured, but would be sad to see a restaurant of this calibre go all the way down the veggie route, so bravo Bruno! And vive la différence as they say.