Laid-back Aussie chef and prolific cookbook writer Bill Granger has opened a second London branch of his all-day eaterie Granger & Co in Clerkenwell. Surf's up for Tom Vaughan
All of this seems remarkable for a man so laid back he's practically in a hammock. "All my cooking has got a bit of beach DNA in it," he laughs when I ask him where his sunny flavours come from. "Something of the wandering surfer in it."
For those familiar with his cookbooks and sunny, easygoing recipes, there's absolutely no change of pace at his new 90-cover restaurant.
"Granger & Co is about comfort food and relaxed cooking - it's not special occasion food, it's everyday. I cook food that is on the lighter side - not too heavy, too rich."
Granger's food bounces happily around South East Asia, Australia, the Mediterranean and pretty much anywhere you can imagine a beach, although he says his London restaurants tend to lean more on South East Asian cooking, as that's what he misses the most when in the UK.
Coming from Australia my palate's very influenced by South East Asia - those clean, sharp flavours. It's Western cooking through the eyes of South East Asia."
A miso aubergine and tofu dish (£7) is a great start to proceedings - umami-packed soft aubergine topped with fried tofu.
"We have a restaurant in Tokyo and I spend a lot of time in Japan," he explains. "It's influenced by grilled tofu at yakitori restaurants - those simple, clean flavours." Pan-fried aubergine is mixed with miso, chilli flakes ("I like my food slightly more spiced up than traditional Japanese cooking"), a touch of citrus, some Chinese vinegar and some sugar. "It's Japanese ingredients with a flying visit to Beijing."
Fried calamari with green papaya, nuoc cham, herbs, peanuts and crispy shallots (£13) is a standout take on a restaurant classic. It takes its cue from South East Asian beach culture. "When I was backpacking as a student in Thailand I'd have green mango salad and spicy dressing and I'd have it with fried shrimp. It's my homage to that."
Granger's answer to London's recent burger craze has been to make one so distinctly his own that it stands well away from the pack - a shrimp burger with jalapeÁ±o dressing (£15).
Sat in a homemade brioche bun, packed with lemongrass and ginger, and paired with a peppery radish salad, it's a ray of sunshine in a town of heavy beefburgers. "We wanted to do something a bit different but to get a flavour that is clean and light was hard - it takes a lot to flavour that patty. It took us about two years to get it right," he says.
The sticky chilli pork belly (£17.20) - "A huge seller in Notting Hill, where we've never been able to take it off the menu" - is a nod towards Korean BBQ, marinated in hot gochujang pepper paste, sesame oil and vinegar, finished off on the grill, and paired with a roast peanut and spring onion salad.
Finally, where else can an Australian end but with an Antipodean classic: "Australians are well travelled - that's why you always see so many of us around. So it's always nice to come home with a pavlova." A huge chewy monster of a dessert (priced at £7.50), the meringue is folded through with pistachio and white chocolate to make an extra chewy texture, then topped with whipped yoghurt and cream and poached rhubarb.
The beach-surfer, laid-back flavours emanate throughout, but behind every caught wave there's a great deal of paddling that goes into catching it right, says Granger. "Transferring all those light flavours to the UK climate is not hard. You've got to find those flavours that are warming and cosy without being too heavy."
From the menu
- Beetroot, labneh, sumac and pomegranate £8
- Blistered sprouts, finocchiona salami, fried egg and pecorino £8.50
- Shrimp tempura and red eye mayo £9.80
- Parmesan crumbed chicken schnitzel, creamed corn and fennel slaw £14.70
- Yellow fish curry, spiced squash, roast peanuts, jasmine rice and cucumber relish £16
- Roast sea bass, white beans, green olive and citrus salsa £16.50
- Jasmine panna cotta and black sesame crumb £6.50
- Salted caramel and bitter chocolate pot, butter thins £7
- Chilled pandan rice pudding and poached fruit £6.50
Granger & Co, Clerkenwell Green, 50 Sekforde Street, London EC1R 0HA