Looking for restaurants in Covent Garden? Read our review of courtyard café 26 Grains, and check out out guide for more places to eat and drink in Covent Garden here.
26 Grains in a nutshell
Hidden in Covent Garden’s courtyard haven, Neal’s Yard, 26 Grains has grown up from its breakfast roots and is now serving home-style dinners (Wednesday to Saturday) that focus on seasonal flavours, served simply.
Alex Hely-Hutchinson – a chef who’s made a name for herself, over the past five years, serving nutritionally balanced breakfasts packed with layers of flavours and textures.
What’s the vibe?
What started as a pop-up serving porridge in London’s Old Street station has evolved into the cosy Covent Garden site you see today. A crammed open-plan kitchen dominates most of the space. Shelves bend with the weight of pretty crockery; hard-working pots and pans hang, ready and waiting, above the hot gas stove; and any other free space is filled with jars of spices, grains and bags of flour.
You can sit at the bar, facing Alex as she beavers away, high up on smooth wooden bar stools, or at another counter facing the wall. Or there are a couple of communal tables with bench seating, inside and out (weather permitting), modestly decorated with dried flowers and twinkling candles.
What’s the food like at 26 Grains?
Seasonality drives the short-but-sweet menu, whether you visit at breakfast, lunch or dinnertime. Visit in late spring, and you might find the likes of porridge with loquat and sweet cicely, whipped ricotta and toasted walnuts, or asparagus, chopped egg and hollandaise before midday. Lunch sees the likes of yellow dal with roasted cauliflower, aubergine pickle, garlic yogurt, almond dukkah and garlic flatbread, alongside fresh plates of courgette ribbons with herbs, nuts and pecorino.
Dinner is an easy choice of one starter, a main of fresh pasta, and a seasonal Poco Gelato ice cream or sorbet (on our visit a must-order, zingy yuzu sorbet). Ingredients are cooked with little fuss – meaning their bright, fresh flavours shine through – and thanks to Alex’s strong understanding of the importance of balance (whether that be crunch to counter softness, sourness to stand up to sweetness) everything delivers.
On our visit, monk’s beard (a sea vegetable, similar to samphire) came bathed with a lemony olive oil dressing, with crisp, golden, anchovy breadcrumbs, soft, yielding tomatoes quenelles of cool ricotta, and hunks of Little Bread Pedlar sourdough to aid delivery to hungry mouths. Pasta arrives as good as you’ll find anywhere else in the capital (but without the queues) – bouncy, slippery and a vehicle for simple sauces that Italians would surely approve of. Toasted fresh walnuts, buttery, caramelised chestnut mushrooms, fresh parsley and a cloud of salty cheese is hard to share. Another, a pale, creamy pork ragu, has depth of flavour that can only come from a well-cooked base of onions, carrots and celery and a gentle kick of heat that builds with every mouthful. Crab pappardelle arrabbiata entangled with samphire was sweet, fiery and salty all at once. This is food you want to eat, every day.
And the drinks?
The drinks list is as pleasingly succinct as the food menu – leaving decisions quick and easy. Choose from the likes of organic red (sangiovese) or white (verdicchio) and Provence rosé, Camden Town Brewery lager, G&T or a hibiscus soda.
Don’t tell everyone – this is a secret spot in the heart of tourist land.
Here are some recipes from 26 Grains to try at home:
Ready in 20 minutes this simple salad is packed with crunchy green beans, juicy oranges and homemade tapenade.
Make this fuss-free impressive pasta dish with fresh crabmeat and homemade confit chilli oil.
Try this vibrant side dish with golden roasted spuds, crunchy radishes, peppery rocket and baby spinach.
26 Grains, 1 Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden, Seven Dials, London WC2H 9DP
Words by Laura Rowe
Photographs by David Cotsworth