Grain Store – Stable Street
Posted on February 15, 2015
Bruno Loubet has a couple of things in common with my dad. The first is a faint resemblance to Rowan Atkinson, the second is an admirable dedication to his vegetable patch.
For many years my dad, more Bean than Blackadder, pottered clumsily between greenhouse and garden tending to his principal family of perennials. He brandished his knobbly carrots and oversized marrows with pride, forcing my horrified sister and I into consuming mutated veg any way he could. Beetroots ended up in places they should never be seen: in chilled soups, sandwiches and wrapped in cling-film and slipped into lunchboxes; the curse of the vegetable patch well and truly blighted our early memories of food. Sorry, Dad.
But at Grain Store – the restaurant Loubet co-owns with Michael Benyon and Mark Sainsbury of the Zetter Group – the menu is inspired by the Frenchman’s love for stuff pulled out of the ground. And that’s no problem, not any more. I’ve grown to love vegetables when they’re not being forced down my neck by an insistent parent. Although there’s something disturbing about reading ‘fermented cabbages, ash baked turnips & celeriac, persimmon & chipotle ketchup and venison steak’ on a London menu that seems to revive your mother’s distant voice, that one where she’s singing “here comes the aeroplane!”.
It reads like an ordeal – the sliver of protein forming an incentive to stomach the rest. Loubet has spoken candidly about today’s generation eating too much meat and so veg is given a starring role, thrust into the spotlight like an unsuspecting stand-in to do the job of the meaty lead. He relegates the animal to garnish (confit lamb shank supplements a plate of pickled cucumber) as if to prove a purpose. I read each dish backwards before choosing – not the point I feel.
All of this would have been original and exciting if the vegetables had been exceptional. But they weren’t. A mountain of stodgy leeks arrived on a slab of fermented corn brioche, braised, not burnt as the menu had promised, which was probably a good job considering the amount of them. Lovage oil made it a nuclear green and a lovely duck egg tried, but failed, to save the dish from being an incredible hulk of mediocrity.
Baked beetroot and lentil salad was better. Little peaks of horseradish foam in particular were brilliant and whinnied for a fillet of mackerel, although slices of duck pastrami were just fine. Our onion bread with crème fraîche butter was forgotten, and when it came it was really just bread and butter – here you had to pay £3 for it.
‘Wild fruit purée, potted cabbage, parsnip crisps, bacon, roast wood pigeon breast and sausage’ was a mouthful of main course, and an average one at that. The bird in its ketchuppy condiment was much better than the cabbage and the crisps, which seemed to defeat the object. It was a messy, rectangular plate, each component presented in separation so that it looked like an abstract traffic light.
Seaweed sushi was a hockey puck of bland rice, each grain stuck so fast to its neighbour I’m surprised we didn’t spot a Pritt-Stick somewhere in the open kitchen that gave us a full view of its inner workings. The hake and pak choi were well cooked and waistline-friendly, but vanilla butter gave the bowl a sickly, car freshener scent. It conflicted unpleasantly with a waft of black garlic puree that was smeared excessively around the bowl like one almighty skid-mark. I chose not to finish it.
The main courses were unbalanced to the point of feeling contrived and not handled with enough love for green, root or legume to really shine. Re-establishing the humble vegetable is a noble mission, but here it’s made to seem an impossible one. Loubet certainly has loftier ambitions for his vegetable patch than my dad ever will, but not ones that leave me any more enthused.