Photography by Corina Esquivel
After spending some time living in Copenhagen, Alex Hely-Hutchinson discovered a hidden love for grains. She became intrigued with crafting recipes with various grain-bases, such as buckwheat, barley, millet, amaranth, spelt, quinoa and rye. By adding a variety of different milks, juices, fruits and traditional Nordic spices, Alex began developing and perfecting recipes of her own. When she moved back to London, she decided to open 26Grains first as a part of London’s growing pop-up scene. Alex later found a more permanent location in Covent Garden where she has been warmly welcomed by fellow healthy neighbors such as Wild Food Cafe, Neal’s Yard Remedies and Blend & Press.
If you visit her cafe, you’ll certainly find some of her glorious combinations on the menu, such as pear, cardamom, hazelnut and rye porridge, or one of her savoury options like miso, kale, poached egg and chilli cashew porridge. Alex’s porridge cafe offers a delicious variety of grains while always keeping things simple, interesting and tasty.
We spoke with Alex about her favourite combinations, tips for making grains at home and how her porridge fascination first began.
You lived in Copenhagen for a little while. Is that how your grain-obsession began?
Yes! It was remarkable living there and just seeing how the everyday standard of living was so high. They really embrace foods and focus on bringing out their individual tastes and textures, particularly with different types of grains . I also fell in love with their concept of Hygge. It doesn’t have a literal translation in English, but it means togetherness, cosiness, warmth and everything I believe a bowl of porridge to be.
You were just 24 when you founded 26Grains. What pushed you to open the business?
Ahh, its so hard. It was a strange obsession, and the amount of screen shots and idea-folders kept growing. The opportunity came when I was offered a space to rent with Appear Here at the Old Street station.
How did you come up with the name 26Grains?
Coming up with a name is the hardest thing to do! 26 became a number to me that seemed to bring me good fortune, and I knew I wanted to have grains in there. So, therein was born the name 26 Grains.
You started in East London, as part of the growing “pop-up” scene. What was that experience like?
It was amazing to have had the opportunity to test an idea with relatively little risk. Similarly, it is incredible to be a part of a growing community of people who are experiencing similar challenges.
You have some great combinations – like pear, cardamom and hazelnut. What’s the secret to an amazing grain bowl?
The secret is simplicity! It happens by pairing foods that enhance each other’s flavours. I find that using fewer ingredients in their most natural form gives you the best combos.
What tips do you have for spicing up plain oats?
Get your hands on the best grains you can and soak them the night before so they’re super creamy (as well as helping you to digest the food more easily). Use the best quality whole milk or nut milk with as little or no additives, real vanilla and a top quality sea salt.
Do you have a favourite grain?
I don’t know! I love the earthiness of rye, the texture of quinoa and the creaminess of oats. I do often go through stages of having a favourite — barley sometimes takes that throne, with a really lemony parsley pesto or cumin and mushrooms. Oh, and the richness of a black sticky rice! I like them all.
What do you like most about the food scene in London?
I like the abundance of delicious food.
What are some of your favourite porridge bowl combinations?
A good knob of butter, just as the grains have been poured in the bowl. Tender stem broccoli with lemon, garlic and siracha. Cardamom, Honey baked apricots with sesames and tahini yogurt. Figs, coconut yoghurt and lavender maple… the list is endless!
What’s your vision for 26Grains?
To create a really strong brand that’s serving delicious food… and to bring you a little Danish Hygge!
It’s so hard to say. I think for the moment, I would love to get the shop in to tip-top shape, develop some new recipes and really consider what the next big steps are around Christmas. There are a lot of different ideas on the horizon!
Inspired? pick up today's product from the Kitchen Co-operative available till midnight: Banana Jam