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The London restaurants leading a grain revolution

27th September 2018

Nutritious, delicious and grown abundantly in the UK, ancient grains (also known as heritage grains) are enjoying a resurgence of late. Grower, Abi Aspen Glencross, checks out the London restaurants putting grain at the centre of the plate.

From rye to spelt, buckwheat to einkorn, ancient grains are making a return to our plates, with bakers and chefs, producers and farmers ditching monocrops of wheat and corn in favour of more diverse varieties. Why? Not only are these grains delicious, they’re good for our health and they’re beneficial for the environment, too. Good news indeed. But despite their growing popularity, a whopping six million tonnes of these ancient crops are grown, not for human consumption, but for animal feed. Surely, we should be eating more of these tasty, diverse varieties? Thankfully, London’s chefs and bakers are showing us how to do it.  

Jolene

ancient grain pasta

Homemade cavatelli pasta, from grains milled on-site

The love child of Primeur and Westerns Laundry founders, Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim and David Gingell, Jolene is a new restaurant and bakery in Newington Green. The team source their grains from Groove Armada-musician-come-farmer Andy Cato, who grows heritage grains on his farm in the south-west of France. All grains are milled on-site for use in their daily-changing menu of breads, pastas, risottos and pastries, and with soil fertility, ethical growing and the environment high on this team’s agenda, Jolene is a new opening not to be missed! Try the cheese and ham toastie, and any of their homemade pastas. To.die.for. jolenen16.com

The Skip Garden

An urban oasis hidden away behind Granary Square in King’s Cross, The Skip Garden isn’t just the HQ for the amazing youth charity Global Generation, it is also a beautiful garden with plants grown in skips and a delicious café too.

With a changing menu each day, The Skip Garden is a vegetarian and predominantly organic café with a big focus on seasonality and a diverse array of grains. Think: flavoursome rye-sandwiches, gorgeous spelt salads, and home-baked ancient einkorn tarts. Their baked goods host a variety of great flours, too. We’ve even seen them mill their own Hodmedod’s quinoa flour! Try their burnt marmalade cake or rosemary and sea salt cookies. Delish. globalgeneration.org.uk

Native

Native chia seeds

Native’s British-grown Chia Seed Sable with Kentish Raspberries

This forage-focussed restaurant is run by super-duo Imogen Davis (billed by Grace Dent as one to watch in 2017) and Ivan Tisdall-Downes, who’s also cheffed at River Cottage and Dan Barber’s legendary Blue Hill restaurant in New York (side note: Dan Barber is a chef and author of The Third Plate, and an inspiring advocate of ancient grain varieties).

Native make their own focaccia daily and showcase a variety of grainy dishes. Their recent wild nettle and English grains dish was a hit, as was their British-grown Hodmedod’s chia seed sable. Plus with a ‘head screwed on’ attention to reducing waste they often use yesterday’s bread in their salads (team that with Isle of Wight tomatoes and you have yourself a winner). eatnative.co.uk

Franco Manca

Known as London’s sourdough-pizza gurus, Franco Manca take pride in considering the environment when picking their ingredients. Their menu changes seasonally, all wines on offer are natural and they meticulously choose their flour.

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Sourced from Pivetti, a predominantly organic Italian flour producer, the grains can be traced right back to the field where they were grown. The team purchase with ecology in mind, and support low-intensity agriculture. They choose wheat with just enough protein to withstand their pizza’s long fermentation process, rather than the high-protein wheats that are commonly shipped from all over the world or sprayed with copious amounts of fertiliser. They believe that good agriculture is a key ingredient in their amazing tasting pizzas. Try their simple tomato, mozzarella and basil. Simply divine. francomanca.co.uk

Core

A true haute-cuisine dining experience, Core has been hot in the media lately. Owner and Head Chef, Clare Smith (ex-Gordon Ramsay) sources the finest British ingredients for this three-star restaurant. And they’re trying some unconventional grains on the menu, too. One of their favourites is spelt – an older variety of wheat – which they source from the incredible organic growers at Sharpham Park, headed up by ex-Mulberry founder Roger Saul. We tried the spelt with morel mushroom, asparagus and wild garlic. Keep your eyes peeled for more autumnal variations. corebyclaresmyth.com

26 Grains

Gorgeously grainy breakfast bowls

Pretty much what it says on the tin, here you’ll find more grains than you can shake a stick at. Oats, rye, wheat, freekeh and even the pseudo-grains quinoa and buckwheat are just a snapshot of what you can find on 26 Grains’ breakfast and lunch menu. The team also play with some delicious, unconventional flavours. Try their plum and bay porridge with toasted buckwheat, quinoa and wood sorrel. 26grains.com

Interested to cook with more unusual and diverse grains and flour, head to the Farmdrop larder. 

For more ethical eateries, check out this sustainable restaurant guide to London, and our ultimate eating guide to Bristol, too.

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