When your best friend pleas with you to go for brunch at a porridge cafe on a Sunday, the bar of expectation is set high. If I am going to be spending more than a fiver on a bowl of oats it better be good.
Visually 26 Grains, the porridge cafe in Covent Garden makes a good impression. Nestled in the beautiful courtyard of St Neals Yard, this Scandinavian inspired venue feels right at home amongst artisan coffee shops and vegetarian cafes. We arrive at 12 and manage to nab a spot at the sharing table out the front, a preferable seating arrangement as opposed to the rather crammed set up of inside.
The menu is compact and intriguing with sweet and the ever fashionable, savoury porridge options available.Playing it safe we choose two sweet options the Blackberry Bay and Salted Caramel Pear. So far, so good.
Post ordering our positive first impressions rapidly deteriorate. First the tea arrives, boiling hot water, inside pint glasses. Trendy it may be, but practical it is not. The glass has become so hot from the water that you physically can’t hold the tea for the first ten minutes, let alone drink it. Moreover having worked in a cafe/deli where a glass carafe shattered due to being filled with boiling water and burnt the head chef, a mug seems to be a much better option all round.
Sitting with our boiling glasses we wait…
And we wait some more.
Finally, upon seeing the porridge of the couple who sat down beside us 10 mins later than our arrival we politely enquire where our food may be.
50 minutes later our porridge arrived. Yes you heard me correctly, 50 minutes.
I wish I could say that it was worth the wait but it wasn’t. Visually like the cafe itself, both porridges were on point and looked very pretty. Flavour wise however they were both lacking. The salted caramel pear porridge was the biggest disappointment insofar that there was no salted caramel to speak of. Understandably the premise of the cafe is health, however blitz up some dates in a food processor along with a little flaky sea salt, and your put the salted caramel in the pear. Instead we were given some mildly cinnamon poached pears, in a coconut milk porridge that was in desperate need of a lift. The pistachio sesame sprinkle added some texture yet more yoghurt and seasoning were needed to balance the bland creaminess. To give 26 grains its due the blackberry bay was much better. Almond milk cacao porridge was an interesting concept and the flavour combination of blackberry and bay worked well. It all felt however a little timid. There could be more bay in the compote and more cacao in the porridge. It was good but it wasn’t one of the best porridges of all time, which when you are eating in a cafe that specialises in porridge, it kind of has to be.
26 Grains is a classic case of an understaffed venue where the staff are run off their feet and in the process neglect both attention to detail in their food and their customers. A simple and potentially lucrative concept in need if better execution.
26 Grains, Neals, 2 Neals Yard, London, WC2H 9DP £ 4/10