Words by Tom Horan
Time was that an invitation to go round the back of King's Cross Station for a night-time assignation was distinctly to be avoided. But the former den of vice is now one of London's buzziest destinations. It's the new home of art school Central St Martins (selected alumni: Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo, James Dyson of the clever hoovers), The Guardian, and Google's new mega-HQ will open there soon.
On elegant Granary Square at the heart of the neighbourhood boys sport beards and girls clutch portfolios as they mooch to class. At the far corner of the piazza sits the ex-warehouse that is home to vast and ever so slightly bonkers new restaurant Grain Store.
The capital's foodie contingent are in a bit of a 'verjus' about Grain Store and it's no wonder. Backed by the people behind Moro, the Zetter Hotel, and the beautiful Zetter Town House, the head chef is Frenchman Bruno Loubet. His vision places what he calls an 'exploded kitchen' at the heart of things, which may sound alarming but is a pretty accurate description of Grain Store's cavernous space.
As the uniformed kitchen army make the food, silvery ducts and pipes swoop overhead, while transparent bell jars provide the light, refracted through coloured panels a metre square in red, green and gold. Designed by Russell Sage, the feel is part laboratory, part Andy Warhol's Factory, but acres of stripped-back wood make it somehow cosy too.
Sitting up on stools is practically obligatory, whether you're perched at the split-level bar sipping a Granary Martini (with mustard vodka), or at the semi-private high table for 16, curtained off in a raised corner. The drinks come courtesy of mixmaster Tony Conigliaro – Tony made his name with his Twinkle (vodka, elderflower cordial, champagne and a lemon twist) - and include a delicious selection of smoked and herb-infused wines.
Foodwise, we liked the look of most of the list, which is heavily slanted towards all things vegetable. The perfect solution was the £35 a head surprise menu, whose surprises were almost all nice ones, especially Peach, salted watermelon & basil salad, salmon confit. The devilled duck hearts - served with buttermilk & caraway braised cauliflower, and wood baked onion – could have been a nasty one, but actually tasted delicious. The vegetable theme extended to the presentation too, with tree bark, pine cones and the outer husks of corn cobs popping up on different dishes. We drew the line at the hay and grass water, however, which is water with, er, 'notes of hay and grass'.
But eccentricity is definitely part of the charm at Grain Store, and the staff - from the pianist plinking out ragtime jazz to the urbane barman serving Fennel Pollen Vinus Lupus (it's a herby wine infusion with clover honey) – have an infectious enthusiasm for all its foibles. And for lovers of the unusual, is there a better sight in the world than a huge magnum of wine being carried across the room? They open a new one here every day, and a glass form The Big Bottle, is amazing value. Go on - treat yourself.
The ELLE UK Score
Style of food: The humble vegetable re-imagined for the i-Phone era
Good for: Group outing; Sunday chilling
Address: Grain Store, Granary Square 1-3 Stable St, London, Greater London N1C 4AB, 020 7324 4466
Mon- Wed 11am- 11.30pm
Thu- Sat 11am- Midnight
Sun 11am- 4.30pm
Average price per person for two-course meal without wine: £35 for five course 'surprise' tasting menu
Price per bottle of house wine: Half-litre 'Pot' of VdP d'Oc 'Terre de Garrigue' Tour des Pins, Languedoc £12; or Esterzargues 'Les Galets Rouge' Rhone £12
Price of glass of house wine: £3.50
Price of bottle of house prosecco: £32, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, Colalto Brut
Price of glass of house prosecco: £7
Private dining: No
Garden/al fresco dining? The terrace on the square with views of fountains and Regent's Canal has room for 80
Best table? The group high table in the corner
Bar? Atwo-tier marvel 40 feet long
Who goes? Food-ologists, future Phoebe Philos, and Guardian writers who've sneaked out of their office (just across the canal)
Nearest tube: Kings Cross St Pancras