Review: 26 Grains restaurant in Neal’s Yard
Primarily an all-day café, 26 Grains in Neal’s Yard has begun offering a small evening menu, introducing an intimate and affordable dinner option to this pretty pocket of Covent Garden from Wednesday to Saturday. Find out what London Planner’s ever-hungry Neil Simpson thought of it here.
26 Grains was opened by Alex Hely-Hutchinson, who made her name for herself by selling porridge from a pop-up stall at Old Street Underground in 2014. This should give you a clue as to why her Neal’s Yard restaurant has that name – she’s a big, big fan of grains. This determination to fill a menu with grains is most logically achieved at breakfast time, which is why 26 Grains is primarily a daytime venue, offering dishes such as almond-milk porridge with peach and pistachio, or perhaps a bowl of yoghurt with gooseberry compote, rye almond granola and tarragon.
In a setting as pretty as Neal’s Yard (a small, bustling courtyard hidden away in the Seven Dials district of Covent Garden), I’d recommend this little corner café if you’re searching for a lazy London breakfast or lunch, but enough of that – it’s dinner time.
The first thing that I was struck by at 26 Grains was its size: it really is small. Finding yourself in a tiny London restaurant often means that it’s 4am and you’re about to eat a greasy kebab, but in 26 Grains’ case, it feels like you’ve been told a secret. The room combines the dining area and the kitchen, with a dining counter between. I chose to eat at this counter, which means that the staff and the chef are circulating all around and in front of you: it feels like you’re having dinner at a friend’s house, which is pretty rare in the West End of London.
The dinner menu is tiny too, comprising one starter, one main and one dessert (two courses £18; three courses £21). Clearly, 26 Grains isn’t a good choice for those who love choice, but the Italian dishes really appealed to me. The starter was an attractive combination of green beans, ricotta and Trapanese pesto (which is named after Trapani in Italy, where they replace the traditional pine nuts with almonds), followed by aubergine ragu on fresh rigatoni-style pasta. Both dishes were satisfying, filling and comforting, which is exactly what I love about Italian food.
Dessert at 26 Grains is usually an ice cream or sorbet, while the drinks list offers one European red, white and rosé wine (£7/28 for a glass/bottle), Camden Brewery lager (£4.50), two cocktails (£8-9) and a non-alcoholic hibiscus soda (£4.50). I’ll say it again: 26 Grains is magnificent for indecisive people, but if you enjoy browsing a long menu this will be your worst nightmare.
They say that good things come in small packages, which is often essential in a city that’s as full as London is. With its reasonable prices, personal setting and great location, I’d say that 26 Grains should definitely be added to London’s list of good things.
1 Neal’s Yard, WC2H 9DP
Mon-Fri 8am-4pm; Sat 9am-4pm; Sun 10am-4pm; Wed-Sat 6pm-9.30pm
www.26grains.com | No bookings
Prices and times correct at time of publishing