Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Guilt-free eating out

Last time you went out for dinner, did you worry at all about whether your meal was sustainably sourced and whether the restaurant had any kind of ecological business practices? Chances are that you didn't: the majority of us are usually too distracted choosing something good on the menu, gossiping and worrying about the price of the wine mark-up to really pay this much attention. Or, being British, we're usually too self-conscious to ask whether the pork chops are outdoor-reared.

Did you know that, according to the Environment Agency, the hotel and restaurant industry has the lowest environmental awareness of all business sectors? It’s pretty sobering to learn that food services and restaurant industries chuck out a horrifying three million tonnes of food waste annually, and that restaurants bin a massive 600,000 tonnes of glass bottles every year! It’s enough to make anyone choke, Queen Mother-style, on whatever they are eating, and ask for a doggy bag to take home all leftovers - something which I do often (no, not the choking part!)

But hope is on hand for all restaurateurs in the form of the superheroes at the Sustainable Restaurant Association (otherwise know as the SRA). Founded by restaurateur Mark Sainsbury and ethical business consultant Giles Gibbons, they have made it their mission to get restaurants to behave more responsibly – whether it’s getting their meat from farms with good welfare standards, sourcing ethical fish, reducing food miles and cutting their waste and energy use. It's a pretty tall order.

For an annual fee, restaurants can sign up with the SRA and get all kinds of support in tackling these tricky issues. Many have joined already – I was interested to know that it’s not just trailblazing independents that have become members (such as The Duke of Cambridge, Moro and The Clerkenwell Kitchen) but larger more well-known restaurants or chains such as Carluccio's, Canteen, Leon and Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. (I now am forced to hate Carluccio's a little less...even though I find their branches as charmless as a punch in the face, with bland food and deafening acoustics!)

Recently the SRA put on a foodie evening out and bravely invited a motley crew of food bloggers (including me) to demonstrate to us how restaurants in the Clerkenwell area of London are all getting on board with the sustainability message. Our first stop was The Clerkenwell Kitchen for a starter, where they treated us to summery loveliness in the form of courgette and goats' curd canapes, and a salad of mixed leaves, peas and eggs with homemade salad cream (see above). Then we hopped over the road and ate a divine main course of sustainably-fished sea bass with chermoula and quinoa at The Modern Pantry (who I might have now forgiven for a previously lacklustre brunch). Finally, we heaved our rotund selves onwards to The Zetter to eat a delectable raspberry and passionfruit sable, with fresh mint teas and chocolate truffles. All three of these restaurants demonstrated clearly that you can still serve wonderful, luxurious food that tastes exciting, while still staying true to ethical ideals without forcing people to wear hair shirts, stroke their beards and eat lentils.

The Clerkenwell Kitchen's impeccably-sourced sweet peas:

If you'd like to know more about the SRA and its noble aims, all the info is here. If you happen to be padding about Clerkenwell, I'd recommend a meal at any of the three restaurants above. Perhaps some of you could be persuaded (if you don't already) to ask a few more questions when you eat out - remember all it takes is a few people nagging to see small things start to change for the better. Ask where the mystery meat comes from. Don't be afraid to find out if the restaurant recycles. And if you can't finish that whopping steak, always ask for a doggy bag, the absolute epitome of foodie chic!

The Clerkenwell Kitchen
The Modern Pantry
The Zetter


  1. Hi Anne, lovely post and it was great to meet you at the SRA Food Safari event! Thank you for the link and don't be a stranger now. Love your blog and writing.

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  2. Doggy bags are essential. I abhor wasted food. (I was Leftover Food Monitor in the junior school at lunch times and we had to scrape all the food that was left on plates into an enormous steel bowl to be put in the bins. It scarred me for life I tell you.)

    Can I recommend Acorn House in Kings Cross? It's a fabulous place, and I believe they try to be as sustainable and eco-friendly as they can. Also, their malted ice cream is...oh my god.

  3. (sorry about the double link. Oops!)

  4. Hey Luiz. Thanks for digging my blog! Yours is pretty cool too, I must say. Perhaps see you soon at the London Cooking Club...

  5. Hi Lisa, I haven't been to Acorn House, must add it to my ever-increasing list of places to stuff my face...

  6. *waves*

    Acorn House is such a lovely place, small but very friendly. The chef was highly amused when he heard me and my dinner partner go "Ohhhh AWESOME!" as we tasted our ice cream. Everything is seasonal, and they give you free bottles of water that they filter themselves. Ok, I'll stop now. :)