In the Kitchen with Alex Hely-Hutchinson
With the opening of her second site just around the corner, we caught up with 26 Grains founder, Alex Hely-Hutchison. She talks to us about the importance of good produce, her favourite places to eat around town and of course, her new restaurant, Stoney Street.
How did 26 Grains come about?
By mistake really. I’d always worked in food during school holidays and after a year spent in Copenhagen as a part of my degree, it really kicked off my love of simple, seasonal food. Between jobs, I wanted to work in food again and so set up a pop up stall serving porridge as it was something I had started eating again while I was living in Copenhagen. I did pop ups for a year and then was offered an opportunity to do a year long pop up in Neal’s Yard. Following that, they offered us a permanent site and here we are today.
What does your typical day look like?
Wake up at 6, do a little work that might have come up in the night of things I’ve remembered or not had a chance to do the day before. Cycle into 26 Grains and spend the morning there, working through new menu items for the breakfast and lunch menu. We’re planning the new restaurant at the moment so that afternoons are spent meeting with builders, working on budgets, interviews and anything else that comes with a new site - orders, website, staffing, menu development etc.
Using seasonal ingredients is a big priority for you, which is your favourite season? And why?
Autumn for sure. Not only from the cross over from delicious stone fruit and the last of the summer veg, but we also start to get these warm and rich colours through, dramatic in look and taste but still feeling fresh. Seasonal favourites include corn on the cob, figs, pumpkins, brassicas.
You made your name in porridge. Savoury or sweet ?
I’m sweet all the way.
What’s your favourite dish on the menu at 26 Grains?
Probably the first dish we ever put on and the one we serve all day, Hazelnut and butter. Oats with a little salt, salted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark roasted hazelnuts and fresh apple.
Where are some of your favourite places in London to eat?
Gosh London is amazing at the moment. Bright, Towpath, Duck Soup, Flor.
What first drew you to Covent Garden for your first location?
It was Neal’s Yard more than Covent Garden. It has an amazing history of originally being run as a commune, producing dry goods to compliment the fresh fruit and veg market that used to take place in the main piazza. It was run like the commune based in Copenhagen in Christiana hence the array of colours and plants in the yard.
Stoney Street is due to open at the beginning of next month. Tell us more about it? What can we expect?
It’s going to be amazing. We’ve had such an incredible start with the site and it’s location, the design and build team, our new head chef, the research we’ve done into suppliers. I really can’t wait. We’ll have a limited menu, based on the best ingredients we can find, using suppliers that work with fewer ingredients on their farms, but are real experts in the ones they produce.
Expect lots of delicious home cooked simple dishes, carefully considered. Sweet and savoury einkorn gallettes in the morning with the best seasonal produce, fish stews, fresh pastas through lunch and dinner. I’m so looking forward to it.
Stoney Street will be open from breakfast through to dinner. The menu looks amazing! Below, Alex has shared with us a beautiful pasta dish that can be found on the new Stoney Street menu.
Mushroom Walnut Pappardelle
250g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp Olive oil
1 large garlic clove, finely sliced
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
1 glass white wine
4 tbsp mascarpone
4 tbsp toasted walnuts, crushed
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and Black Pepper
200-300g fresh pasta (100g per person)
Start by making your mushroom and walnut sauce. Melt the butter and add the olive oil and mushrooms and cook until they start to colour.
Add the garlic and thyme, cook for a further minute or two and then add the white wine. Cook off the wine for 2 minutes before adding the mascarpone, walnuts and lemon zest.
Now make your pasta in a pan of salted boiling water. After a minute, add a ladle of the pasta water to your mushroom sauce and turn it up to a high heat.
Add a good grating of parmesan, some black pepper and lemon juice.
Once the pasta is cooked, add it to the sauce on a high height and allow it to thicken by stirring it frequently in the pan. After 1-2 minutes it should start to turn emulsify and turn beautifully glossy.
Divide between your plates and grate over parmesan, lemon zest, a few remaining walnuts and season with salt and pepper.