I really love porridge.
There are times when it’s hard to believe just how cool I can be but there you have it. I have a huge soft spot for the humble oat in all its glory and thankfully, so does Alex Hely-Hutchinson, the brains behind Neal’s Yard newcomer, 26 Grains. If you’re unfamiliar with this darling dinky pit stop in one of London’s most deliciously colourful spaces, and if the notion of porridge conjures up bowls of greying wallpaper paste from your childhood, it’s time to open your mind and reconsider your stance on this champion of dining. I’m not even gonna call it a staple of the breakfast table alone because the truth is, done right, it’s the perfect meal any hour of the day.
Started as a pop up in Old St tube a couple of years ago, this place is named after the number of grains cooked with by Hely-Hutchinson in both her restaurant and her book. This concept is not just a Scandinavian inspired homage to the oat but a way of introducing people to several other grains that can be used as the base for both sweet & savoury dishes.
Freekeh, buckwheat, quinoa & split peas all feature on a menu that heavily blends the flavours you know with the ingredients you might not. Dollops of Nutella, sprinklings of brown sugar and lashings of honey might give you a hit of sweetness at home – here it’s piles of crunchy, dark cacao nibs, dustings of cinnamon coconut sugar and pools of date syrup that will add flavour and texture. Almost too pretty to eat, heaping portions are served in swoon-worthy earthenware bowls that’ll make you curse the fact you weren’t born with effortless Danish cool.
Unless you were.
In which, I’m like 60% happy for you, 40% jealous.
Ok, maybe more like 90/10.
A Banana Cacao bowl was made with almond milk oats and topped with coconut yogurt, cacao nibs, sliced banana and date syrup. Like a glowing hearth on a winters’ day, it warmed me perfectly from the inside out and made me forget Storm Doris as she attempted to batter the capital into submission outside. Deeply delicious with wholesome, nutty flavours from the nibs, this was as far removed from your standard bowl of over-processed, fakely saccharine porridge as it’s possible to get and I loved it, crushing particularly hard on the coconut yoghurt which added a lovely cool creaminess as it melted into submission atop the oats.
Muesli, granola and a seasonal smoothie bowl complete the cold offering while savoury palates can choose from the sriracha drizzled egg & kale oats or the hygge bowl, complete with chicory, artichoke and beetroot and if avocado toast is as far along the food trends tightrope as your breakfasting companions will comfortably tiptoe towards, they won’t go hungry here either with rolling hills of creamy green avo spread over rye bread. My need for a return visit just to try the black tahini yoghurt is like my occasional need to listen to Michael Bolton whilst cleaning the kitchen. It’s inexplicable to some but oh-so understandable to others.
Never one to shy away from trying the latest superfood ingredient I flagged down and jumped on board the turmeric band wagon with a spiced hot chocolate that was dark and savoury, gentle on the taste-buds and lingering in the nose. I love a twist on an old favourite as much as the next food obsessive – and you feel free to call me a philistine here – but there’s a place for superfoods and a place for marshmallows, squirty cream & a flake and I know which belongs on my cocoa.
At less than £10 for substantial portions of food & drink, 26 Grains is great value for money. I realise this is the point where some of you holler ‘Woman! They better be 24 carat gold plated oats for that price!’ and yeah, I get it. This is a breakfast that’s absolutely gonna cost you more than the sachet of Readybrek sitting squashed & forlorn in the bottom of your larder but the quality of ingredients used here are beautiful, the presentation is chocolate-box pretty, the vibe is relaxed and the staff are lovely…can you say the same of your breakfast al desko?