I was watching Bill Granger on tv the other night. Doesn’t he seem like the nicest person? I can imagine sitting, relaxed, with him, eating something fresh and tasty, drinking a glass of cold, white wine. Maybe we’d finish with a home-made ice lolly. The conversation would be pleasant, there’d be some laughs. We wouldn’t put the world to rights, conversation would be about more important things; food, pleasure, the sea.
His first book, Sydney Food, was the first cookbook of its kind I’d seen. I bought it from Books for Cooks, took it home, very excited. This was in, maybe, 2000, before anyone in London had heard of Mr Granger and before my cookbook collection grew out of human control. The food in it, and the life that went with it, was a revelation to me. The style, Sydney Easy, shook me like a big wave hitting hard. It was a mix of southern Europe, Asia and sunshine. It was light, easy to make and very easy to eat. I ate avocado on toast and prawn cakes for months, dreaming of Aus. I almost went to Sydney a couple of years ago, I almost pressed the buy button for a ticket. The truth is I couldn’t face the flight. Maybe I’ll sail there one day. Either one of those terrifying ships the size of a mountain, or on a merchant ship that stops places you’d never think of going to, like Aden or Djibouti. I’d sit on deck with a blanket over my knees and an Agatha Christie in my hand. Well, maybe not. A fun-filled six week cruise would be my idea of hell.
So, to fill the Sydney-shaped hole in my life, I went to Granger & Co. The Clerkenwell branch has been with us for a year, although I missed its opening, somehow. There’s another in Notting Hill. I don’t know who the Co is, but the Granger is Bill. It’s in a very cool part of London and I went last week with my friend Amanda. She arrived first and the waitress started to lead her to somewhere Siberian. Amanda, quick on her toes, noticed the best place to sit in the joint, a round table in the corner by the window. The waitress offered no resistance and led Amanda to it. We could see everything that was going on. Strong plus point to Granger & Co to start with.
The restaurant is much smarter than I’d imagined it would be. Maybe it’s Bill’s that are all tongue-and-grooviness? Maybe I have to go to Sydney for that surfer coolness, after all. Still, the place in Clerkenwell is lovely, really, very comfortable to sit in. The noise, even when full of fashionable, young, East-Londoners, doesn’t overwhelm. Perhaps all that pale wood absorbs the sound. The natural light is perfect and whoever chose the electric lights is my soul brother. They are beautiful. There are these double-headded brass numbers… Oh, don’t get me started, just catch me while I swoon. Beautiful lights are one of my great loves, and this is the light of my dreams. I don’t know why I didn’t take a photo of one, but you can just about pick it out in the picture at the top. The whole place feels… modern.
It was midday and I wasn’t sure how to order. Just in time for that meal between brunch and lunch, blunch. Excellent! But I was distracted by our conversation and ordered in a panic. I asked for the full Aussie, which is like a full English without congealed baked beans. It was as good a fry-up as I’ve ever eaten. The generous portion of scrambled eggs were soft and pillowy. The mushrooms were especially moorish, and the bread was satisfyingly dense and tasty. The butter – hooray! – was cold. Amanda had sticky chilli belly pork, which she loved. The menu is fresh and modern and all-round pretty inviting, full of that Aussie mix of Asian and Mediterranean. I wish I’d had hotcakes or corn fritters with an avocado salsa side, the sort of food that seems like peak Bill, and I’m thinking it’s worth returning for soon. There’s shrimp burger and yellow fish curry, tea-smoked salmon and parmesan chicken. It all looks pretty good to me. We drank lots of coffee and it cost around £20 each and neither of us blinked. And I’m beginning to wonder if the agony of a twenty-four hour flight, no leg room, a toddler kicking the back of your seat, a baby crying in your ear, all that might be worth enduring for a trip to Sydney.
Granger & Co, Clerkenwell Green, 50 Sekforde Street, London EC1R 0HA