Eating out without costing the earth

With the cost of living on the up, we select three London restaurants that are doing their bit for the planet but don’t break the bank.

LogoThis article is part of a new series by Wicked Leeks, Sustainable Cities, exploring what sustainable food means to those living in the city.

Often restaurants that champion sustainable food can be out of reach for many budgets or are relegated to special occasions. To help make sustainable eating more accessible for those living in or visiting London, here are three restaurants that are putting green dining in reach of everyone’s budget.

Spring, Somerset House

Spring embodies a typical ‘green’ restaurant; highly sustainable but also prohibitively expensive. It’s linked to a biodynamic farm in Herefordshire, sources top quality produce from local growers, celebrates seasonality and run by renowned, sustainably-minded chef Skye Gyngell.

But between 5.30 and 6.30pm Wednesday to Saturday, Spring offers a three-course meal for £25, called Scratch. Believe me, this is a great deal less than the normal menu.

The Scratch menu is a creative take on eliminating food waste as well as opening the doors to more people. Every day the chefs assess the surplus food from the normal menu and use it to create a unique menu, inspired by head chef Gyngell’s Australian roots, where a ‘scratch tea’ is a meal made from odds and ends at the bottom of your fridge.

“I can’t tell you what a difference it’s made in the waste overnight. It was remarkable,” says executive chef Rose Ashby. “Nothing goes to waste unless it’s actual rubbish.”

Inclusivity was central to the creation of this menu, says Ashby, who adds: “We’re aware we’re an expensive restaurant and unfortunately that outprices a lot of people. We wanted to do a waste menu at a low price point so Spring was a place that everyone could come to.”

It’s a chance to taste fine dining at a fraction of the normal cost in the grand setting of the Somerset House. Dishes include a crisp bitter leaf salad, deemed inadequate for the full-price menus (they were still impeccable), with toasted hazelnuts and a sweet rosehip syrup to counteract out any bitterness. Seeing these still-stunning leaves that might ordinarily have been wasted brings the issue of food waste in high-end restaurants into sharp focus where only the best produce will do.

Next was tender pulled pork, trimmings from the pork belly, on a bed of roasted fennel and carrots, drizzled with salsa verde.

To finish was a rich chocolate square, somewhere between the texture of tart, cake and mousse, paired with a sweet but slightly spicy candied ginger compote.

Each day, the Scratch menu is different and dependent on surplus food, so there’s no room for dietary preferences unfortunately. 

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Resourceful chefs use odds and ends to serve pulled pork, roasted veg and salsa verde. 

Miscusi, Covent Garden

This pasta chain has found huge success in its native Italy, and they have now expanded to this lively Central London location.

Despite normal appearances, this is no typical pasta restaurant. They use seven types of organic flour to promote farm biodiversity and you can even see the relative carbon emissions of dishes and gain loyalty points for meals with the least impact.

“We source directly from farmers and growers; this seems simple but it’s the most powerful thing,” explains chief executive Alberto Cartasegna. “If you don’t know where the food comes from, you can’t really do anything.

“The way we select those farmers is through a level of questioning that asks three things; how much gas has been used to power the tractors and the kilometres that tractors have driven over fields, the chemicals, if so what type and how much, and the land use change. Only then can we assess the impact.”

It’s this depth of investigation that means Miscusi can measure every plate in terms of carbon emissions.

A pasta made from ancient durum wheat and lentil flour with wild mushrooms and sauce has 54 per cent less emissions. But Cartasegna admits this is hard to calculate and the impact of dishes is relative to the average Italian meal.  

This sustainable pasta is accessible to everyone at Miscusi, with most dishes costing under ten pounds.

“Fundamentally we wanted to democratise the accessibility to good quality food,” says Cartasegna. “We want to make it accessible to have broader impact.

“A plate of spaghetti has the power to give you all the nutritional aspects that you need and store carbon permanently if it’s done in the right way.”

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Choose pasta made from seven types of heritage grains that foster biodiversity on farms. 

28 Well Hung, Nunhead, south east London

In a cosy venue in the south east corner of London, Catherine and Gary Solomons opened what they claim to be London’s first regenerative restaurant.                                              

They’re building on the movement of regenerative farmers who are reducing their pesticides and fertilisers, switching from grain to grass, and manage their land in a way that locks up carbon in the soil and fosters biodiversity.

They take particular pride in their heritage, grass-fed beef from Philip Warren’s small herds in Cornwall’s Bodmin Moor and mutton from renowned Cornish producer, Matt Chatfield, who uses the same techniques found in Spanish Iberico pigs on sheep to intensify the flavours of meat usually unfavoured by chefs.

But half their menu is also veggie, with options to make them vegan.

“I believe it’s really important to demonstrate that within food and agriculture, there’s a solution to climate change,” says owner Catherine Solomons.

And the pair are unafraid to have difficult conversations about the role of animals in a sustainable food system and see it as part of their responsibility to act as a bridge between city dwellers and farmers.  

“The vegan propulsion, I get it. It’s a complicated discussion but if you believe in something, you’ve got to have difficult conversations,” Solomons adds.

Small plates of high-quality steaks with seasonal veg is all part of their less but better philosophy and it keep the prices down with less premium cuts such as onglet and tri-tip costing under ten pounds a plate.

“We do steak and chips for a tenner on Wednesday and Thursday. If you just want to have water, that’s fine,” says restaurant manager Ashleigh Buick.

“You couldn’t be a regenerative restaurant if you’re not accessible,” she adds.

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Less but better is the mantra at 28 Well Hung. 

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