When Bruno Loubet told fellow chefs about his plans for a new restaurant four years ago, they thought he was mad. There was the location, on a building site amid the run-down goods sheds of King’s Cross in London. Then there was the concept, with a menu that, if not entirely vegetarian, would relegate meat to a bit player on the plate. If there was one certainty, it was that upmarket vegetarian restaurants didn’t make money.
But that was then and this is now. King’s Cross has been transformed into a foodie hub, and “flexitarianism” has become the norm, with more and more of us eating less meat.
“To be honest, my reasons for opening Grain Store were that I love vegetables and I wanted to put them at the heart of my cooking,” the 54-year-old chef says. “I realised it was wrong to focus on meat. How can you explain that you need 8kg of grain and 2,000l of water to make 1kg of beef?”
So out went steak and frites, and in came, say, “corn in quinoa tamale with vegetable salsa and pork belly a la plancha”, where the meat is treated almost as a garnish.
Now, he says, the greatest compliment is when people eat a meal and don’t realise they haven’t eaten meat. “There’s one dish, chilli con veggie, where I use ground mushrooms instead of beef, and lots of people don’t notice because the flavour is so similar. We even had someone complain that they were vegetarian and didn’t want to eat meat, and I pointed out it was not only vegetarian but vegan, too.”
Loubet doesn’t deny it can be laborious to make veggie food interesting. The answer, he says, is a larder full of things that deliver a punch: harissa for spicy couscous; whole-grain mustard to pep up a vegetable casserole; or his favourite, Chinese XO sauce. “Add that to some steamed greens and noodles, and you have a great supper.”
Roast cauliflower with tofu and kimchi custard
1 large head of cauliflower
100g of butter
2 tbsp cider vinegar
50g panko breadcrumbs
1 tsp chopped garlic
3 tbsp chopped flat parsley
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
For the custard
1 tsp cornflour
200g kimchi cabbage (available from Sainsbury’s and other supermarkets)
200g silken tofu
1 tbsp lime juice
Salt and pepper
1 Trim the leaves off the cauliflower and place in a lidded casserole dish large enough to accommodate the entire head with a bit of space left around the edges. Add all but 1 tbsp of the butter and set over a medium heat to melt but not burn the butter.
2 Add the vinegar and close with a lid. Lower the heat. Check every 5 minutes, turning the cauliflower to get an even colour and cooking. After 40-50 minutes it should be soft but not falling apart.
3 Meanwhile, make the custard. In a small dish, dissolve the cornflour with 1 tbsp of cold water. Boil 80ml water with the kimchi in a small saucepan. Add the cornflour and mix in well. When boiling, add the tofu and lower the heat to simmer for 1 minute, then pour into a blender. Add the lime juice and blitz until smooth. Taste for seasoning.
4 When the cauliflower is cooked, remove from the heat and place on a serving plate. Cover with a sheet of foil to keep warm. Add the remaining butter to the pan, melt until foamy, then add the breadcrumbs. Stir and cook until light golden brown and then add the garlic, parsley and coriander.
5 To serve, spoon the herby crumbs over the cauliflower, and serve with the gently reheated custard.