There are many features of The Grounds’ interior design that come straight from my fantasy kitchen checklist: farm-house style timber cabinetry with granite tops, plenty of industrial shelving and glass-fronted cupboards, and floor-to-ceiling white tiling reminiscent of old-fashioned butchers’ shops. Now imagine all of this in a large, high-ceilinged former pie factory with polished concrete floors and exposed brick walls and you’re half-way to conceiving the splendour of The Grounds. Add to that an enormous semi-covered garden with long trestle tables under groaning hanging baskets and simple glass lanterns, and veggies and herbs grown in raised beds built from old rail track sleepers. Then there’s the coffee research facility where they test different roasting profiles and techniques on the single estate and single origin beans which they source from various regions of the world. And we haven’t even started on the food yet!
The breakfast menu is available only until 11.30am so a return visit will be in order. I thoroughly approve of its emphasis on free range eggs with various mouth-watering accompaniments: lemon myrtle mushrooms and brioche; tomato sauce, cannellini beans, spinach and labneh; double smoked ham, avocado, Persian feta and pesto; house cured ocean trout, dill crème fraiche, pickled cucumber and herbs. Lunch features salads, sandwiches, a burger, a cheese board, a pasta… nothing radical but all of it utterly delicious sounding and featuring plenty of veggies and herbs from the garden.
A slow cooked lamb salad with roasted pumpkin and chickpeas is fresh and plentiful with tender, rich pulled lamb complemented by a sweet, sharp sherry vinaigrette.
Tea smoked kingfish rillette is beautifully smokey, as you might expect, and comes served in a glass preserving jar sealed by a veneer of butter, with a crusty seeded baguette, pickled radish and salad garnish topped with pretty edible flowers. We share a brown paper cup stuffed with fat, dark golden, salty chips, their outsides fluffed up slightly to make them incredibly crunchy. To drink there’s ginger beer served in glass jars with handles and fresh mint from the garden.
Having admired the cakes and tarts on the way in we simply have to add a couple to our bill as we pay on our way out. For afternoon tea, back at the office, we share a dark chocolate dipped florentine and a divine peach tart, its frangipani filling light and moist and the fruit juicy and intensely peachy.
The Grounds is ridiculously popular at the moment – deservedly so – which means that even on a week-day you’re likely to wait for a table. We waited, on a Thursday, only ten minutes, which we passed very pleasantly perusing the menu in the garden, but Clare has queued for an hour at the weekend. Another option is to line up for takeaway and eat it in the garden. (I’m not sure why they’re not doing table service to the garden; perhaps that will change.) The takeaway menu is much more concise, however, so my advice would be to go the eat-in option and don’t be in a hurry – you’ll be richly rewarded.
Building 7A, 2 Huntley St, Alexandria
Visited 25 October 2012