My Life In Food: Alex Hely-Hutchinson, 26 Grains

Alex Hely-Hutchinson’s first restaurant – 26 Grains in Neal’s Yard – put grains in the map, specifically sweet and savoury porridge made with a range of interesting and delicious flavours. Fresh from launching Stoney Street, an ingredients-led restaurant in Borough Market, she shares her favourite restaurants and ultimate home cooking tips…

The restaurant that will always stay with me is The Shack, along the boardwalk of the beach where I grew up in the States. I’ll forever remember overly sauced chips and bubblegum ice-creams.

The first dish I learned to cook was either boiled egg and soldiers, or porridge. My mum taught me how to make both.

The restaurants I revisit most often are east London spots Bright and Brawn or Duck Soup in Soho. They have wonderful produce, and each dish is so carefully considered so the end result is always delicious. I love vegetables and always order anything with lots of greens, so I often go for fresh pasta or fish.

I don’t have a favourite chef, because there are so many people cooking really different foods, taking the same ingredients but doing something crazy and innovative. I’m in awe of both of the chefs at my restaurants, Charlotte and Henrietta. It’s so interesting to work closely with someone and watch how they approach a new ingredient as it comes into season. Whether it’s using something in a dressing or a marinade, or deciding whether to cook it quickly in a pan or slow-roasted in the oven, it’s fascinating to watch how their ideas turn out. 

I have a few restaurants still on my hit list. It’s so bad, but when you’re in the midst of opening a new restaurant there isn’t often time to be eating at the new ones. I’d love to go to Marmo in Bristol and Bubala in Spitalfields. Marmo is really my favourite style of restaurant; simple, delicious food in a great space, run by a very lovely couple Cosmo and Lily. Bubala is all about celebrating vegetables and, although I’m not a vegetarian, their food is delicious, abundant and creative.

Hai Cafe

One of my most memorable meals was at Blue Hill Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York. I learned so much there. I will also always remember going to Shirosaka in Tokyo – it was on the first night I arrived, and I had been desperate to visit Japan for years, so I was really excited.  The best dishes were eel with short grain brown rice, a wagyu beef stew and whisky with apple sorbet. 

My favourite pub is Clapton’s The Elderfield, my local. The burgers are delicious, there are games, there’s outdoor seating, a roaring fire. It’s cosy and small and most people there are friendly neighbours – great vibes. 

My favourite bars are P Franco in Clapton or Behind This Wall in Shoreditch. Dan from P Franco always has the best taste in wine, so I go with whatever he suggests. There’s always a good vibe there. At Behind This Wall, they play vinyl records all night on tannoy speakers, and they have a great cocktail list, too. 

My go-to dish on a Sunday night is egg fried rice. I keep it simple with rice, peas, spring onions, eggs, sesame oil and soy sauce.

If I’m looking for a place to take a date, I like Campania and Jones in Bethnal Green – it’s cute, cosy and unfussy. They have a daily pasta on the menu so I usually go for that. 

After a long, late shift I like to eat fresh, ripe mango. I used to go for something salty and fatty, but then one of my chefs told me her favourite thing for the end-of-shift ‘munchies’ was fresh fruit and, oh my god, it’s good. 

I like buying fruit and veg locally, and I order meat in. There’s a life-changing fish pie mix you can order in advance from The Secret Smokehouse – it’s so good, I’m going to order one for this weekend.


My favourite dining companions are my sister and my husband. We order one of everything, including drinks. Dinner with them always goes on for hours - they are so much fun. They’re both ridiculous, curious and greedy. 

If I’m entertaining at home, I love making fresh pasta with pork ragù or a creamy, herb sauce with mushrooms and walnuts. When entertaining, I also like doing a ‘make your own pizza’ night, or a good borscht. 

My dream dinner guest would be Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver. I love his music. He seems like such fun and I’d want to find out what his favourite songs are – and build an epic playlist with him. 

The secret to hosting a good dinner party is knowing that nobody really cares what you cook – just make something you've made before. As long as it’s tasty, easy and plentiful – and served with good wine – your guests will be happy. Candles and laying the table nicely are always good ideas, too. 

The best food I’ve served at a party was maybe an eight-hour beef pho. But otherwise, the best party was my wedding. It was in France at the end of last summer, so we ate baked camembert, big globe artichokes, pickled garlic, baguettes finished with fresh peaches, figs and crème brûlée.

My favourite takeaway is from Hai Café on Lower Clapton Road. My go-to order is the summer rolls, a beef pho and the most delicious vegan spring roll. I’ve never had a spring roll like theirs before.

26 Grains
Behind This Wall

The one dish I always order if I see it on the menu is anchovies. But they’ve got to be good. Lots of people don’t like anchovies but when they’re good quality, they’re like little mouthfuls of heaven.

My drink of choice is a ‘Manhattan’. I also love limoncello.

For a quick mid-week meal, I like to cook lots of roast veggies, dukkah and sharp cheese. Otherwise, anything I cook in my Vanity Fair column – all really simple recipes like fish stew or cavalo nero pasta.

I’ve never been a big fan of a Sunday roast, but I do love a pie with lots of veggies on the side. My favourite filling is chicken and tarragon.

My idea of food hell is any sort of fusion that just doesn’t work – like a sushi pizza. I don’t like baked avocados, either.

My death-row dinner would be a French market spread: paté, cornichons, rotisserie chicken, baby gem lettuce, tapenade, comté, fresh tomatoes with salt, mussels in wine and cream, butter with flaked sea salt, fresh baguette, green beans and herbs… the list goes on.

1 Neal's Yard, Covent Garden, WC2H 9DP; and 2-3 Stoney Street, Borough Market, SE1 9AA


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