Restaurants


There’s a restaurant in Gràcia called La Ceba (The Onion) which specialises in truites – the Catalan word for Spanish tortillas. Their main menu lists truites made with many ingredients, some of which you perhaps cannot imagine in an omelette, as well as other Catalan dishes. We ate there one lunchtime this summer and ordered off their more expensive menu del dia (they have a cheaper one as well – and it also looked good) at €13,80 each. Service from the off was…well, off. The servers were ill-tempered and rushed off their feet at the lunchtime crowd. They seemed to hate our (the diners, any diners) existence. That said, the food is fabulous so perhaps someone’s happy in the kitchen.

A torrada d´escalivada, formatge manxego i anxoves gratinada was a large slice of toast topped with lots of the Catalan grilled vegetables, melted cheese and anchovies. While simple, the toast was delicious in its simplicity and generosity.

Torrada d´Escalivada, Formatge Manxego i Anxoves Gratinada

We had to have a truita, of course – here was a truita de carbassó i patates (courgette and potato). Excellent. It wasn’t overcooked and had just the right egg to filling ratio. Its perfect size inspired me to go out and buy a pan that’s just that diameter (I bought it and it’s great!).

Truita de Carbassó i Patates

I had seen a hamburger go to a neighbouring table and it looked great – we ordered one. This excellent hamburguesa amb ceba caramel.litzada (cooked to a perfect juicy medium) came with salad, fries, and that lovely large dollop of caramelised onions.

Hamburguesa amb Ceba Caramel.litzada

Our other second dish was the Catalan classic botifarra amb mongetes seques – a big grilled fresh sausage with cooked dried beans. Excellent and especially excellent were the beans, which had been fried a little after they had been boiled. Usually you just get boiled beans.

Botifarra amb Mongetes Seques

Notice how both were big, hearty meat dishes – we needed a break from fish after our time on the Costa Brava!

Desserts were an average flam

Flam

… and an amazing pastís de formatge (cheese cake) that Blai says was the best he’s had in the city.

Torta de Formatge

So yeah, hopefully it’s not always this grumpy in the restaurant as they’re putting out some terrific food. I’d love to go back in the evening to try one of their many other truites.

La Ceba
C/ La Perla, 10
Barcelona

The bus to Cadaqués was the most nerve-racking, white-knuckle bus ride we’ve ever had. Our bus driver was going a little faster than we would have liked and he zipped around the corners, hugging the dry cliff edge and occasionally having to back up to let a car pass. We emerged into the Cadaqués sun breathing hard and feeling more than a little woozy. It felt good to dump our things at our hotel and take in the fresh air with a stroll around town and by the sea.

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Casa Blaua

It’s a beautiful town! The former fishing village no longer homes fishermen but just tourists in the little whitewashed houses. Its difficult to reach location meant that the town has been protected from the tourist hotels you find further down the coast and has thus retained its charm. Apart from the sea, the town itself, clinging onto the hills of Cadaqués, is a beautiful setting in which to walk around.

Anyway, lunch time. We chose a restaurant close to out hotel: Can Shelabi, with its menu del dia. To start, excellent fried seitons (fresh anchovies) …

Fried Seitons

… and the salad of the day, which turned out to be some fantastically flavourful and garlicky esqueixada, a traditional Catalan salad of salt cod, tomatoes, onions and peppers.

Esqueixada

Now, this was a delicious tagine of sea bream but it’s the dish I’d most like to forget as a treacherous fish bone went down my throat and caused much anxiety. It was delicious but let’s go on to the next dish.

Tagine of Sea Bream

Grilled sea bass was served with white rice and tomatoes. Again, fresh and delicious but altogether a bit dry – a little sauce of some kind would have helped with the rice.

Grilled Sea Bass

We both opted for a simple banana with chocolate for dessert. While the banana could’ve been riper, the chocolate sauce was gorgeous, dark and not too sweet.

Banana with Chocolate

The afternoon was spent walking first to Port Lligat to see Dalí’s house …

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… and then finding ourselves another quiet beach to while away the late afternoon. We succeeded! Cadaqués is smack dab in the middle of the Parc Natural de Cap de Creus and the water was even clearer here with lots of fishes and crabs and sea anemones to ogle. Next time though we’ll need to get some shoes that’ll ensure our feet aren’t cut by the rocks.

Our Favourite Beach

We hadn’t planned anything for dinner and just went off in search of a nice place that had space. That place turned out to be Mut and we only had to wait a short while for a lovely table outside, facing the sea. We shared a number of plates with drinks: escalivada with goat´s cheese, …

Escalivada with Goat´s Cheese

… more seitons, this time in vinegar, …

Seitons

… and a Catalan classic of pa amb tomàquet with anchovies. Perfect. Everything here was excellent.

Pa amb Tomàquet with Anchovies

Cadaqués by Night

The next morning, we checked out of our hotel and spent the morning strolling around more of the narrow whitewashed streets of Cadaqués and then finding our own little rock on which to perch and dip our toes into that crystal clear water.

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I had taken notice of a promising looking restaurant earlier that morning and we returned there – Can Pelayo – for lunch. Blai’s sardines were again fresh and fantastic (as you can imagine, when we returned to Barcelona, we took a break from fish).

Sardines

My gazpacho was exactly what I wanted, cold and refreshing. 

Gazpacho

Our shared fideuà looked spectacular and was fine; it didn’t have the same wonderful seafood flavour of the paella we had in El Port de la Selva though. Still, a fine eat and certainly a good deal as part of a €15 menu del dia.

Fideuà

There was dessert too – watermelon and crema catalana. Service was a bit of a mess when we were there though but it was laughable rather than stressful. Hopefully things will improve!

After lunch, we caught a bus to Figueres – ok, it’s not exactly the Costa Brava but it is part of the Dalí Triangle (the third and final vertex being the Gala Dalí House that is Púbol Castle). It was about 5pm when we arrived in Figueres and it was the perfect time to see the Dalí Theatre-Museum as there was no queue for tickets.

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There was even a little time to see the small collection at the Museu de l’Empordà, where we were delighted to find a couple of original capitals from the monastery we visited while we were in El Port de la Selva. After that, it was onto a Rodalies train again, back to Barcelona (delicious pastries were purchased for our train dinner).

We loved the Costa Brava! If you’re planning a trip there, I can highly recommend the official website of the region as I turned to it often. All photos from this little trip of ours can be found at this Flickr album.

Back we were in Catalonia for the summer! This time, to get away from the big city, we ventured north to the Costa Brava. In particular we aimed for two small fishing villages – El Port de la Selva and Cadaques – and it’s the first village that I’ll feature in this post. To get to the Costa Brava, many people drive but it’s entirely possible to do it by public transport; you just need to be aware of the timetables. We chose Cadaques as it’s known to be beautiful and we both had never been; El Port de la Selva was chosen for its size (tiny) and its beaches and culture (plenty).

Our first part of our journey from Barcelona was a Rodalies train from Passeig de Gràcia to Llançà – you can buy your tickets on the day, a few minutes prior to the train’s departure. It was a very pleasant and uneventful 2 hour ride to Llançà, where we emerged at a station hotter than the fiery depths of hell. It was hot. Llançà is a coastal town but away from the coast, where the train station is located, oof.

Exit from the station and walk straight out and continue walking straight, over the bridge and onwards until you come to a road perpendicular. Turn left here and you’ll find the town hall. Across the road is the bus stop you’ll need. We stood there in the sun, dripping with sweat, and gazed at the very nice bus shelter on the opposite side of the road for buses going in the opposite direction. Gah. Anyway, we caught the bus for El Port de la Selva – this is a local bus and it was a little late, according to its timetable, but you can’t complain when you’re paying €1,80 for the 20 minute coastal ride.

Another view of El Port de la Selva, just before we left for Cadaqués.

We entered El Port de la Selva just in time to check into our hotel, have a little wander and then find some lunch. There were plenty of restaurants in the village and many with weekday menus. We settled for a lunch menu at Ca l´Herminda, a restaurant operating in the village since 1963. Their lunch menu was €16,50 and the first courses were very good, like this salad with anchovies – I love Catalan salads as they’re always full of variety.

Sardines Salad

It was to be seafood for the second courses. A seafood pasta was creamy and chock full of garlic. Perfect for longtime married couples!

Seafood Pasta

More garlic was had with this fabulous hake with thick toasted slices of garlic. Everything was excellent, including the paellas we saw at other tables.

Hake with Toasted Garlic

Their desserts were simple but excellent – we shared a crema Catalana and a large chunk of cold fresh watermelon.

Crema Catalana

After lunch, it was all about finding ourselves a quiet little beach and there are plenty to choose from in the area, from big beaches to little coves. The water in the region is crystal clear and it’s within the Parc Natural del Cap de Creus; it’s brilliant for snorkelling. No real photos from our time there but here’s a view of the harbour and the monastery (the speck on the hill) as we walked back to the village.

El Monastir de Sant Pere de Rodes in the distance

It’s here I’ll mention that the village was perfect for our needs – there’s plenty to do but it’s not crowded like many other towns along the coast. Most tourists were French (France is a short drive away and Blai’s mobile even managed to connect to a French network while we were at the beach).

Dinner that evening ended up being at El Rebost del Pescador, a new tapas bar we happened to pass. When I discovered that it was linked to its neighbouring Confraria de Pescadors del Port de la Selva, a fishermen’s collective, I insisted on eating there! For did I mention yet? El Port de la Selva is still a fishing village. I was expecting great things and we weren’t disappointed.

We tried almost everything that was available that night. The waiter made a special effort to point out the sardines fumades (smoked sardines), here served on slices of pa amb tomàquet. They were indeed excellent, lightly smoky and meaty.

Sardina fumada

I also need to try their home cured anchovies – and this was the best anchovy I’d ever had, all plump and tender and not overly salty.

Anxova de la Confraria de Pescadors

A Pomada d´en Manu turned out to be a kind of tuna salad with onions. I know that doesn’t sound particularly exciting but this was just superb.

Pomada d´en Manu

A melt in your mouth tender, local octopus was served sliced on sliced potatoes; again, this was some of the nicest octopus I’d ever had.

Pop roquer de Cala Prona

We ordered more after seeing a plate of something intriguing at a neighbouring table. It was mackerel off a tasting menu (€35 per person, including a bottle of wine between two) but off the regular menu, we got sardines en escabetx. These cooked sardines were falling apart in a beautifully vinegary sauce laced with plenty of sliced onions.

Sardina en encabetx

I also ordered a pintxo of their seitó de la Confraria – their own cured fresh anchovies (or boquerones). Beautiful. And with that, we tried all the seafood; it’s just a shame that they had run out of the red prawns from the region.

Seitó de la Confraria

All this with a couple of drinks totalled about €30. Bargain. You can purchase their preserved fishes and other local products in the restaurant too. Highly, highly recommended.

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we set off for our hike to El Monestir de Sant Pere de Rodes – the monastery up the hill from El Port de la Selva. Our first stop was at a local shop/bakery where for about €5 we got a baguette turned into two sandwiches with freshly sliced chorizo and ham and cheese from the deli counter. We were not charged much more (if any more) than the cost of the baguette and the deli items by weight, and we got the bread rubbed with tomato in the Catalan way as well! Bargain! That was our picnic lunch sorted.

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The hike up was difficult, much more so than our hikes in the Vall de Boí – the distance was greater and the heat! The heat! If you’re going to do this hike, do bring lots of water to keep you well hydrated. We walked all the way along the harbour until we reached a campsite. From there we went through the valley, via a tiny village called La Vall de Santa Creu and then up to the monastery.

The Monastery!

We only saw two other hikers on our way up and three on the way down; it was hot. The majority of visitors to the monastery drove there and they all looked cool and fresh whilst we looked like sweaty rats. The monastery was well worth the hike though and the views from up there were incredible.

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If you don’t want to bring your own lunch, there’s a full restaurant and cafe inside.

We took a different route down, heading first to the carpark and taking the path down past the incredibly fortified Església de San Sebastià …

Església de San Sebastià

… and then the most beautiful village of La Selva de Mar. From there it was back to our hotel in El Port de la Selva. I read somewhere that the fishermen in times past worked in El Port de la Selva and lived in La Selva de Mar. The latter village was clearly heavily fortified against the many pirates that used to visit the region.

La Selva de Mar

Our final dinner that night in El Port de la Selva was at Monterrey, the restaurant that was owned by our hotel. While our hotel was located a little back from the coast, their restaurant was right by the beach, well, and a road. It’s a good position and we got an outdoor table with a lovely view of the harbour (reservations recommended).

We pushed the boat out when ordering (we deserved it after the hike!). First up, a snack of delicious fried xipirons, tiny little squids.

Xipirons

It’s only after this trip that I’ve realised that we ordered a lot of escalivada, here again with anchovies. We can’t help it – we love this Catalan grilled vegetable dish!

Escalivada with Anchovies

We couldn’t leave without sharing a rice dish between us – we chose the seafood paella, which was cooked more like a Catalan rice than a Valencian paella.

Seafood Paella

The grains of rice were a little undercooked and it was a little wet (hence the Catalan rice dish comparison) but overall the flavour was outstanding. There was plenty of seafood within and we finished the entire thing. Uh… no dessert for us then.

Seafood Paella

We did have a little walk to a local ice cream joint though – Gelats Artesans Galiana! I have no photos but their ice creams were fantastic and we went there both nights we were in the town. My favourite was their orxata sorbet but their pistachio ice cream was also excellent.

Thinking about this sorbet de orxata in El Port de la Selva.... #latergram

Overall, we ate very well in El Port de la Selva! Our second stop was Cadaqués – and that’s for the next post!

It was my birthday last month and I was particularly disorganised this year. Three days prior, I still hadn’t figured out how I would celebrate this now slightly depressing occasion. Noodles had to feature somewhere (symbolising long life in the Chinese culture) but didn’t necessarily have to be at dinner; I could scarf down a bowlful at lunchtime. Barbecue? Did I want meat? Comfort food? What was exciting in London? Somehow after a lot of googling and a lot of perusing lists, we fixed on A. Wong, the upscale Chinese restaurant in Victoria. The main thing was that it had space that evening. Noodles sorted then.

As I’d booked so close to the date at this clearly very popular and lauded restaurant, it was an early dinner for the two of us. And we sat in the dark basement – when I do return, I hope I get a table upstairs where it’s light and airy. Apologies then for the very dark photos.

Chilli oils, two of them, arrived at the table, both distinct but it was difficult to exactly figure out what was in them due to the lack of light. I think there was dried tofu in one and beans in the other?

Chilli Oils

We started with the fanciest prawn cracker I’d ever seen: the A. WONG Prawn cracker (£2.50), topped with various pickles and sauces and some fried ‘seaweed’ too.

A. WONG Prawn cracker

Chengdu street tofu, soy chilli, peanuts, preserved vegetables (£3.50) was a little cup of lovely delicate soft tofu all spicy and moreish.

Chengdu street tofu, soy chilli, peanuts, preserved vegetables

63 degree ‘tea egg’ with shredded filo (£5.95) was served with a smouldering cinnamon stick for some atmosphere… only ours wasn’t really smouldering and Blai grabbed it without realising that it was supposed to be a burning stick, almost causing me to scream. Yeah, more light was definitely needed. Apart from that, the egg was all melty and lovely on the crunchy filo nest.

63 degree ‘tea egg’ with shredded filo

I had heard that there was an element of theatre with the food here and it was most apparent with the Xian city ‘lamb burger’ with sesame, coriander and chilli and Xinjiang pomegranate salad (£12). This didn’t exactly work down in the basement as we couldn’t make out what exactly was in the bowl. Pulled lamb, sesame seeds, what’s that chopped stuff? Is that salad? We piled everything onto the provided buns and tucked in. Tasty but not particularly special.

Xian city ‘lamb burger’ with sesame, coriander and chilli and Xinjiang pomegranate salad

Xian city ‘lamb burger’ with sesame, coriander and chilli and Xinjiang pomegranate salad

I really enjoyed a dish of Yunnan wild mushrooms, truffles and red date casserole (£8) which came topped with a thin sheet of fried tofu skin. The flavours were strong and novel and went well with …

Yunnan wild mushrooms, truffles and red date casserole

Yunnan wild mushrooms, truffles and red date casserole

… a generously filled bowl of excellent Egg fried rice (£3). All the food up to this point had been very flavourful and we never needed to turn to the chilli oils on the table. However with the remains of the fried rice, the chilli oils proved to be fabulous.

Egg fried rice

The noodles! I had expected more noodles on the menu but there only appeared to be Singapore fried noodles and those that we ordered: Hong Kong tossed noodles with sea urchin butter and shrimp roe (£12). These very rich and buttery worms were served with a broth, like dry HK noodles typically are, and we were told to dip the noodles in the broth before slurping them. They also made a big show of sprinkling the shrimp roe on the noodles. Always one to break the rules, I ate the noodles and then drank the broth, HK style.

Hong Kong tossed noodles with sea urchin butter and shrimp roe

Dessert time! It was my birthday and there was no way this course was going to be missed! We went for the Taste of A. WONG desserts (£22), which was all of the available desserts (at a small discount). Now this is where I felt the restaurant really excelled.

Poached meringue, lychee granite, mango puree, orange sorbet and lotus roots came as two parts – a plate of the meringue shaped like a mandarin orange, filled with an ice cream and the granite and puree served separately in a tea cup. The waitress opened up a red packet and poured its contents onto our plate – lotus root crisps.

Poached meringue, lychee granite, mango puree, orange sorbet and lotus roots

Poached meringue, lychee granite, mango puree, orange sorbet and lotus roots

The Tea smoked banana, nut crumble, chocolate and caramel came as a chocolate sphere and this time our waitress poured on hot caramel from on high and yeah, sorry, the photo was taken after this. It all looks like a splodge. Oh, but it was a gloriously fantastic splodge of caramel goo and chocolate and banana puree and lots of crumble. Utterly fantastic.

Tea smoked banana, nut crumble, chocolate and caramel

I liked the order in which they brought out the desserts. Coconut, white chocolate, strawberries, yoghurt and mochi was a refreshing plate of ices and textures.

Coconut, white chocolate, strawberries, yoghurt and mochi

Overall, the food was excellent though I didn’t need the extra steps/theatre involved with some of the courses. That said, I’m keen to return to try their dim sum. Upstairs on the ground floor. With light.

A. Wong
70 Wilton Road
Victoria, London
SW1V 1DE

I brought a friend to Smoking Goat on Denmark Street last month to finally try their food (it’s all about Thai-style barbecue here) and see what the fuss was all about. It did live up to expectations!

From the specials board, we chose a Grilled Pork Skirt with Nahm Prik Som (£13). This arrived first and I loved the hot and sour flavours throughout.

Grilled Pork Skirt with Nahm Prik Som

Fish Sauce Wings (£7) were, I believe, their version of the Pok Pok (hailing from Portland, Oregon) ones. These battered wings had been dragged through a sticky, umami-laden sauce and while they were good, I thought perhaps grilling the wings would have worked better.

Fish Sauce Wings

The Whole Cornish Mackerel with Nahm Prik Pao (£15) on their regular menu was recommended to us and it did live up to expectations. The oily fish is always excellent when grilled and the savoury nahm prik pao (like a chilli jam) worked well with the strongly flavoured fish.

Whole Cornish Mackerel with Nahm Prik Pao

For our veggies and to sop up all the wonderful juices and sauces, we shared an order of Som Tam Bangkok with sticky rice (£6.50). The salad was excellent and refreshing and they offered us plenty of sticky rice in little bags as the meal went on.

Som Tam Bangkok

Sticky Rice

For nonalcoholic drinks, I’d stick to their proffered pandan infused water; the flavoured waters we ordered off the menu weren’t particular interesting or worth the £3 or so. Overall, though, the food was indeed very good.

Smoking Goat

7 Denmark Street
London WC2H 8LZ

We were looking for some dinner in Soho and I had narrowed down a list of nearby restaurants to a few. From that list, Blai chose Bukowski Grill, which specialises in American grilled stuff, all cooked over charcoal on a Josper grill. It was our first time there and for some reason, in the five years that the original joint’s been open, it hadn’t really hit my radar. I’ve only just found out now that this Soho branch, their largest restaurant, only opened earlier this year.

I think it was the burgers on the menu that put me off initially – there seem to be a million burger restaurants in London and most are quite good. Bukowski Grill, thankfully, has other things on their menu as well and it was these that caught out eyes. We started with a nibble of Tasso pig cheek with pickled peach relish (£3.50). For the price, it was a generous little dish of pig cheek prepared as a hot spiced ham. In a weird way, it reminded me a little of a spicy char siu!

Dinner at Bukowski Grill in Soho. Excellent stuff!

We felt we needed to order the highlighted 72 hour beef rib with tobacco onions (£12.25) – and we had no idea what to expect. It was certainly not this beautiful beast. This massive beef rib was fantastic, all smoky and tender, and equally magnificent were the tobacco onions, which turned out to be fried onion strings. Gnawing on the rib felt a little like being in the Flintstones.

Dinner at Bukowski Grill in Soho. Excellent stuff!

A fried chicken thigh milk buttermilk waffle with green chilli maple syrup (£8.50), with a fried egg (£1.50) in our case, was also excellent. Can’t go wrong with chicken and waffles and the spicy syrup made this version quite unique.

Dinner at Bukowski Grill in Soho. Excellent stuff!

We had some chips on the side as well but… no photo of that. They were chips. They were good.

A little sweet thing was exactly what we needed now. A salted caramel soft serve ice cream with peanut butter brittle (£3.25) was near perfect. I liked the salty caramel ice cream but the peanut butter brittle needed to be in smaller, more manageable pieces (and the best peanut brittle I’ve had has been the stuff from this shop in North Vancouver, BC, Canada).

Dinner at Bukowski Grill in Soho. Excellent stuff!

I think what surprised me were the very reasonable prices for everything and all the dishes flying past us did look great – the milkshakes and, yes, even the burgers. It’s a fun little spot, with plenty of seating, and lots of Bukowski‘s NSFW poetry on the bathroom doors. I’m keen to visit earlier in the day too to try their brunch menu.

Bukowski Grill
10-11 D’Arblay Street
London  W1f 8DT

There are branches in Brixton and Shoreditch too.

What with all the flying out of Gatwick’s South Terminal in the last few months, I’ve had the chance to try Bruno Loubet’s Grain Store Cafe a few times already. I still haven’t tried the original restaurant at King’s Cross but I know there’s an emphasis on vegetables, without being a fully vegetarian restaurant. Healthy without being boring.

Our flight to Milan earlier this year was a morning one and we took the chance to eat off their breakfast menu. Bruno’s Power Breakfast was a small platter of eggs benedict, truffles, broccolini, grilled vegetable ratatouille with dukkah and avocado on toast. I loved the emphasis on greenery for breakfast and that avocado toast was excellent stuff. The only letdown was the hollandaise made without butter….without butter, it’s not hollandaise, sorry.

Bruno's Power Breakfast

Baghdad Eggs were fried eggs and spiced butter on salt-baked celeriac waffles. I don’t think I could detect the celeriac in the waffle batter but the combination was fresh and fantastic.

Baghdad Eggs

My flight to Stockholm was after work on a Friday, meaning that dinner was going to be a long way off. A selection of small dishes seemed like the perfect nibble – Thai minced chicken (this looked like larb in lettuce cups and was served with watermelon), a Greek-style dish of artichokes/tomatoes/cauliflower/mushrooms, and grilled aubergine with tonnato sauce. Everything was fine and just tasty enough. OK, nothing was spectacular but y’know, very good and very creative for an airport.

Small Dishes - Thai-style chicken, artichokes and tomatoes, aubergines.

Sweet potato fries were also ordered and were perfect. Extracting them from their plant pot was like playing a gustatory version of pick-up sticks though.

Sweet Potato Fries

Then the flight to Bordeaux (you would have thought I’d deliberately flown out of Gatwick South Terminal this year…) had me looking for a snack. I spotted the avocado toast on another table and ordered that…but with a side of bacon. The hipster snack was perfect – the avocado fresh and well seasoned. I didn’t need nor want the sliced onions on the side – onion breath is always a faux pas on an airplane.

Avocado Toast

The bacon was overcooked though and had turned into bacon jerky, just a bit too chewy for my liking. I’d skip that next time and uh…maybe get more sweet potato fries.

Bacon

Other dishes that looked good (as they whizzed past me) include their burgers, their salads, and their fish and chips. It’s fun, it’s creative, it’s mostly healthy. I think it’s a great addition to Gatwick and possibly the best place to eat in Gatwick South. The only thing that would make it better is more reliable free wifi but hey, that’s just me.

Grain Store Café and Bar

Gatwick Airport
South Terminal

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