As an admirer of the beautiful 26 Grains, owner Alex Hely-Hutchinson’s Borough venture, Stoney Street – eponymous with its location – had long been on my List. Though both are famed for haute (or oat – pun intended) porridge, bircher bowls, pastries and foccacias, by night – on Wednesdays through to Saturdays – Stoney Street transforms itself into a wine bar-small plates kind’a place. And in London-pandemic spirit, Alex has welcomed in guests chefs for these evenings. In what is proving to be a winning culinary alliance, Tom Cenci is currently up.
Cenci’s residency here is just one example of how well Alex has adapted over the past year. She’s responded to Covid-challenges without fear, cooking for frontline workers, then branching out to offer takeaway boxes and an online shop – selling bundles of fresh produce, natural wines and ceramics – and more recently cooking for school children. Cenci was forced to close his nearby Bermondsey restaurant, Loyal Tavern, last year. Filling the void, Stoney Street has offered a new venue for his creative inventions and no-waste approach to cooking. Initially in the diary for three months, start- and stop-interruptions thanks to Covid have meant his residency has been extended since last October. And a very welcome extension this has proven to be.
Tucked away in Borough Market on its namesake Stoney Street, the spot has a definite minimalistic Scandi-style. Located under the arches, seating is a mixture of a scattering of marble tables, a line of window stools and stools at the bar. The interiors are simple: part French bistro, part Nordic minimalist. Its understated, blonde wood elegance is warmly lit by candles, creating an inviting atmosphere that’s further aided by its friendly and attentive staff. Covid-proof, seating is also available outside, where my companion and I sat on our visit, soaking up the buzz of Market Borough and London’s heatwave. Yet whilst located in the heart of the Market, it still feels like a quiet spot. The vibe is warm, relaxed and inviting. It all feels very effortless and fuss-free.
Like all restaurants in tune with sustainability, the menu showcases quality produce with a focus on reducing food-waste. Akin with the approach at 26 Grains, it’s all about using the freshest, seasonal ingredients and there are plenty of vegan options on the regularly changing menu. In keeping with its location in Borough Market it’s no surprise that the focus here is on local produce. Jars of house-made pickles and ferments line up neatly on shelves, with a bounty of vibrant vegetables brimming over wooden troughs in the corner.
Dishes can either be ordered in the more traditional starter and main course format or as sharing plates. Given my companion and I were both up for trying all the vegan options, we went for the latter approach. To get us started, we went for the seductively sweet maple-glazed cornbread (£7). Topped with charred corn and spring onion, the end result was pancake-like, marrying sweet and savoury. Absolutely bursting with flavours, it’s a must start to any meal here. The thickness of the “cornbread” was also pleasingly deep making it more reminiscent of an American-style pancake (or corn fritter). Very satisfying. Though we were starting our meal with this small plate, this dish felt like an early desert. A total treat.
Next up, we shared charred summer peas, wild rice, coconut and jaggery (£8). Another winning combination of sweet and savoury. Another revelation. The caramel-like sweetness of the jaggery and coconut, combined with the natural sweetness of the greenest of summer peas, made for a very summery bowl. The scattering of wild rice – crispy and well-cooked – provided textural contrast. It’s a dainty dish but still oozy and satisfying.
Finally, we shared pot-sticker dumplings (£14) topped with peanut brittle and chilli oil. Whilst our first two dishes were definitely on the sweet side, our finale had a fiery kick courtesy of a good seasoning of chilli oil and flakes. Yet whilst wacking you around the face with a touch of fire, the dish retained that sweetness which seems to be so foundational to Cenci’s cooking. Given my naturally sweet tooth, a very welcome approach to cooking that is for me.
Cenci’s food at Stoney Street tastes like (sweet-savoury) magic. Each dish is a riot of flavour concoctions. What’s so eye-opening is that it’s all comfort food – pancakes, rice and dumplings – given restaurant elevation. The result? Smile-inducing plates featuring ingredients and quality produce you wouldn’t think of cooking at home. Stoney Street is a great spot to while away an evening, with tempting, eclectic and intelligent small plates. The place was full – outside and (gradually) inside – on our visit. I hope it stays that way.
Stoney Street, 2-3 Stoney St, London SE1 9AA