2014 Cateys: Menu of the Year
Sponsored by: Quorn
2014 Winner: Grain Store
With a menu as creative and vegetable-centric as Grain Store, it was almost inevitable that Bruno Loubet's new venture would stand out.
This extends even to the table layout, which spurns the crammed arrangement of many London restaurants in favour of a light, airy atmosphere, with an open-plan kitchen and large, bright windows.
Opened in June 2013, the venue was cofounded by Michael Benyan and Mark Sainsbury from the Zetter Group, who also helped create the Zetter Townhouse and Loubet's eponymous Bistrot in the Zetter hotel. Set in London's Granary Square, the restaurant also has an 80-seat terrace, and could arguably claim a place as a pioneer in the newly emerging King's Cross dining scene, which has begun to spring up in light of the station's regeneration.
The menu, however, has rightly been applauded as the real game changer. Grain Store makes the vegetables the stars by giving them prime billing.
Examples at the time of writing include braised endives filled with quinoa, wood roast onions and Toulouse sausage ragoÁ»t; and chamomile braised heritage carrots and artichoke, roast rabbit saddle in bacon.
Loubet wanted to "emphasise that the veg is more important than the meat", and it is this simple change from the norm that characterises Grain Store's outside-the-box thinking.
It adds considerable interest to a menu that also espouses more often-seen trends, such as sharing platters and small plates.
Dishes are varied in texture and flavour, consciously including healthy additions such as superfoods, seeds and grains. They also feature fruits in unexpected ways (such as the peach, salted watermelon and basil salad with salmon confit).
Dessert was felt by the judges to be no exception to this unusual trend, with current options including the toasted oat and buttermilk panna cotta with caramel poached pear and hazelnut brittle, or the warm chocolate and red bean pudding with mango paste.
Catering to a London audience that can barely move for meat-focused concepts, Grain Store has been congratulated for its original, healthy approach, and Loubet's ability to present a fresh idea. Marina O'Loughlin, restaurant critic for The Guardian, dubbed the place "balmy and refreshing".
And while Lisa Markwell, restaurant critic at The Independent, said a meal at Grain Store would help her "romance her inner vegetarian", the veggie manifesto behind these dishes is so subtle, and the cooking so accomplished, that even a staunch meat-eater is unlikely to notice - or, indeed, care - when their plate is more butternut squash than bacon.
What the judges said "Bruno Loubet's innovative menu is imaginative, intelligent and extremely appealing. In an age where diners are knowledgeable about food, the demand is for dining out to be fun; there is an expectation for high quality ingredients and excellent technical skills. Not only does Bruno's menu tick all these boxes, it manages to deliver dishes that are light and healthy too."
"One of the most original restaurants to open in the London marketplace in recent years."
"It's turned the tables on veg and made it the star."
The judges Mark Askew, director, Jackson + Rye
Nigel Boschetti, executive chef, Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott hotel
Michael Coaker, senior lecturer in Culinary Arts, West London University
Giovanna Grossi, group area manager, AA Hotel Services
Rob Kirby, chef director, Lexington Catering
Jeremy Lee, head chef, Quo Vadis
David Moore, owner, Pied Á Terre
Jennifer Sharp, freelance writer
Clare Smyth, chef-patron, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
Gary Usher, head chef, Sticky Walnut
Simon Young, executive chef, Jumeirah Carlton Tower