26 Grains has become the go-to breakfast spot in Neal’s Yard, serving up bowls of delicious porridge with even more delicious toppings. The vibrant cafe also serves lunch, and its next venture is to open for supper too, just a very simple set menu to be enjoyed in the sunshine on Wednesday-Saturday evening’s from 1st May. Here we catch up with founder, Alex Hely-Hutchinson:
Where did the inspiration for 26 Grains come from?
I was studying in Dublin where I was given the opportunity to take a year abroad. I sadly can’t speak any other language so I had to go somewhere that taught Economics in English. So in 2012 I headed to Copenhagen and I didn’t realise what a big effect it would have on me. It was a whole new way of thinking about food, appreciating and celebrating the seasons and local produce and making beautiful food from really simple recipes and techniques. So I wanted to do something simple and casual with a daytime offering in Neal’s Yard.
How has it evolved since you began the company?
Gosh, I only had a little industry and cooking experience, so it has transformed a lot a lot. Everything from understanding what hospitality is about (service and the people you serve and the people you work with), learning about business, about cooking in a kitchen and the limitations vs cooking at home, understanding how we position our values and deliver on them.
What was behind the decision to open for dinner from 1st May?
We’ve got such a great spot in central London and the sun lands on us at the end of the day. We often find ourselves sitting out after service for a drink and so we wanted to develop a menu that is quick and easy, but seriously delicious, that people could come and enjoy at the end of the day.
Clapton, East London
What do you like about your area?
It’s quiet, it’s low key, there is access to lots of green space, the shops are wonderful and the food is divine.
What does the average day look like for you?
Usually, it involves cycling in early to the shop, having breakfast there, discussing how the menu is working both for food and drinks, any additional training for team that might be needed, considering new dishes for the breakfast or the lunch menu. After lunch I usually will have meetings with upcoming collaborators, site visits for new potential locations, recipe development and research, any marketing queries, a bit of everything.
Favourite thing about the job?
The people I work with, our customers and developing recipes.
Do you have a work uniform and if so what is it?
I do in that it needs to be functional! There’s nothing worse than wearing nice clothes and staining them if you’re cooking, or trying to cycle from one place to another in flares. I mostly wear straight cut jeans, a white t-shirt and trainers.
What’s the easiest way to make porridge a bit more summery?
Simple fruit compotes, like a three ingredient blueberry compote – maple, lemon, blueberry or roasted honey and bay peaches – no fuss, easy cooking. I also like to add fresh yogurt in the summer, particularly nice with some elderflower cordial.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I am always listening to something:
My favourite radio: Radio FIP
Podcasts: Alice Waters on How I Built This
Songs: Whitney (the band) are pretty dreamy
What’s your favourite place in London for a date?
Who are your heroes?
There are so many people I’m in awe of, people in my industry, people I work with, people I meet at the shop, my sister who has just had her first baby. I think so many people are doing wonderful things.
What’s the last book you read?
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
How will you be spending Easter?
In Rio for a wedding, SAMBA.
26 Grains will be open for dinner from 1st May serving a set-menu with just one starter, followed by one fresh homemade pasta dish, a selection of red and white wine and a seasonal cocktail from Wednesday to Saturday from 6pm.