Think you know porridge? Take another – delicious – look at 26 Grains…

I really love porridge.

I know.

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.

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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?

Covent Garden gets a taste of France with Mamie’s beautiful crepes & cider…

Hot Dinners is something of a bible for me when it comes to what’s new on London’s edible landscape and ever since they announced way back in April that a new crepes & cider based restaurant was opening in Covent Garden, I’ve been one of those ridiculously annoying jolly enthusiastic people who hang around shops first thing in the morning waiting for them to open. A little Twitter following here, a little Instagram peeking there and maybe even a hopeful visit while the poor team were still installing the chic copper fittings & minimal branding made me something of a Gallic stalker but what can I say? I like crepes, I like cider, I like Covent Garden and thankfully I can now say that I like Mamie’s. I really like it.

Tucked away down Catherine St, this is a sweet little place with a curiously charming mix of the traditional – French galettes & crepes made to order – and the modern – ordering via iPad at the table. The last time I had to order my dinner via the legacy of Steve Jobs was at Inamo where the whole experience was as enjoyable as root canal surgery; here it was simple, uncomplicated & fuss-free with no waiter coming over to read back your order and no need to check in half an hour later as to where your supper was due to a frozen screen. img_9166

Inside on a crisp December evening with the Christmas lights twinkling outside, it was romantically dark & cosy with small ‘date night’ tables for two, larger spots for groups of friends and stools in the window, perfect for people watching on the eternally busy streets outside.

Service was friendly & sincere and the food, quite frankly, splendid. Galettes here are crazily light & crispy and also gluten free thanks to their buckwheat base. Ours came beautifully folded over a generous filling of goats’ cheese & honey and rolled around sausage, onions & wholegrain mustard. Both were spot on in terms of flavour, texture and appearance plus at under £8 each and amply sized for sharing, they were a pretty-close-to-perfect price point.

You have the option for personalising anything you order so if you fancy a bit of blue cheese, pear & walnut ‘Edith Piaf’ atop your wafer thin, burnished gold & ham-cheese-and-egg stuffed galette, well then you go right ahead. The French are refreshingly unapologetic when it comes to what they want so channel that spirit here.

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With a waistband already distinctly tighter than it had been twenty minutes before, dessert was contemplated, mused and mulled over…then duly ordered. Please. As if there was ever any real doubt.

Crepes here brought to mind dreamy reminiscencs of past summers holidaying on the French coast where a post-dinner stroll along the seafront to have dessert was a highlight of each salty, sun drenched evening. Beautifully thin & soft, go ultra classic with an understated sprinkling of lemon & sugar, indulge your inner 12 year old with chocolate & marshmallows or simply copy me and dive face first into La Magritte, which comes with home cooked apples, vanilla bean speckled ice-cream and one of the best caramels I’ve ever had. Sweet, sticky and liberally draped over the pancake, I’d happily have bought a bucket full to bathe in. Messy? Sure. Worth it? Hell yes.

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Tangy, sweet & cloudy ciders from Brittany and Normandy hit the spot for us although there’s also a succinct yet decent looking cocktail menu that I’m pretty sure would lure me back again without too much effort on a cold evening in January when the charm of the festive season is long gone. To be fair though, the cider is only one of the things that will bring me back to Mamie’s and even that will have to wrestle with those crispy galettes and THAT caramel sauce for the top spot in my list of reasons to return. If you need nourishment of the stomach and the spirit in Covent Garden, Mamie’s is exactly the place you’ve been waiting for….just not as long as me.

Good food + gimmicky ordering = totally underwhelming dining at Inamo…

Eating out in London is incredibly fun. It’s exciting. It’s fresh. It’s diverse. It can also be expensive so when an offer comes along for 50% off food at the opening of a restaurant which already boasts a very popular, sister Soho location, you jump at it. This is exactly what I did with Inamo in Covent Garden during its recent ‘soft service’ preview however if you asked would I be in any hurry to jump back, I’d have to say ‘hmm…’ Read More