Grain Store Unleashed at The Zetter Hotel
Reviewed by Tom Horan
Photos: Addie Chin
The chances are you will be very familiar with your waitress by the end of your visit to the Grain Store Unleashed. As we worked our way through the captivating eight-course tasting menu at chef Bruno Loubet's latest venture, I counted well over twenty visits to our table. And pity the poor plongeur who has to wash up all those plates... But the extra labour is worth it – the sheer imagination and inventiveness of Loubet's vegetable-based creations kept us on tenterhooks for the arrival of each new dish.
Picked flowers and rhubarb, green apple puree, bergamont emulsion , wild sea trout
A pop-up sequel to his huge – and hugely popular – Grain Store in Granary Square behind St Pancras, Grain Store Unleashed is a much more intimate affair. It is tucked cosily into the ground floor of the Zetter Hotel, where the elegant curve of floor-to-ceiling windows lets light flood in and offers excellent people-watching as the creatives of Clerkenwell parade across St John's Square. For diners in search of something extra after pudding, the cocktail list of the Zetter Townhouse is a minute's totter away.
Not that mixology fans aren't well served at Unleashed itself. Loubet's mission statement here has been to extend the creativity that has made the Grain Store so popular, and the menu is more adventurous and experimental at every stage. Our aperitif of Butter & Hay Champagne combined the fizz with toasted butter and hay liquor, and was a delicious match for little hot corn brioches that brought a waft of the baker's oven to the table. Who knew bread and butter could be so cleverly recombined?
Even with the arrival of Unleashed, the Zetter Hotel's kitchen continues to serve its standard fare. As its burgers and chips disappear to tables on the far side of the building, it feels a special treat to be embarking on vegetal oyster and caviar 'Bottom of the Sea' – an oyster shell daintily refilled with a mouthful of tiny vegetables of that is more inhaled than swallowed. Next we loved fresh asparagus cut with just a sliver of pomelo – fashionable citrus fruit du jour – the Chinese mega-grapefruit once known rather less stylishly as a shaddock.
As if that wasn't enough wacky food vocabulary for one night, along came kohlrabi & broad bean raviolo, above, with ramson. This being her ninth approach to the table, we felt well enough acquainted to ask the waitress to give us some background on ramson, at the same time demonstrating that we knew exactly what kohlrabi was, thank you very much. She seemed delighted to tell us conspiratorially that it's a wild relative of chives.
As we reached course number six, with the finish line in sight, the best – and the longest – dish arrived. To read the words 'charlotte potato & spring cabbage roast with bay leaf, caraway seeds & crème fraîche butter, chicken skin & egg', you would think that any possibility of dessert had been ruled out. But like every course on this deftly balanced and beautifully presented menu, it delivered maximum flavour with minimum volume. Could we manage the two puddings each that were still to come? The chocolate pie, caramel & miso ice cream, and lemon & strawberries petit pot with rosemary crumble slipped down without the slightest trouble.
Red vegetables, spiced bread sauce., salted lemon & orange purée, wood pigeon, chilli chocolate
The ELLE UK Score
Style of food: The vegetable as avant-garde artwork
Good for: Dates - each plate is a discussion waiting to happen
Address: St John's Square, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1M 5RJ. 020 7324 4455
Breakfast: Mon-Fri 7-10.30am, Sat/Sun 7.30-11.30am
Average price per person for two-course meal without wine: four-, six- and eight-course tasting menus; £28.50, £34.50, £39
Price per bottle of house wine: half-litre 'pot' of St Laurand Collection Privée 2013, Les Celliers du Corneille, Languedoc, France £13; or Cuvée des Galets 2014, Les Vignerons d'Esterzargues, S. Rhône, France £19
Price of glass of house wine: £4.50
Price of bottle of house prosecco: £32, Prosecco di Conegliano di Valdobbiadene, Frasinelli, Veneto, Italy NV
Price of glass of house prosecco: £7
Private dining: Yes
Garden/al fresco dining? No
Best table? Far right-hand window seat is like sitting in the square
Bar? A stylish horseshoe in the centre of the room
Who goes? Clerkenwell design types, flavour hounds, collectors of arcane food terminology
Nearest tube: Farringdon
Grain Store Unleashed, St John's Square, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1M 5RJ, 020 7324 4455