As we become increasingly aware of the need for quick but colossal change to protect the future of our planet, the impact of all of our choices has to be considered. On the food front, some of the capital’s favourite restaurants have answered the call and are leading the way with an environmentally-friendly approach to dining out. Here, Hilary Armstrong discovers London’s sustainably-minded establishments.
It’s a good thing the waiters at Rovi are well drilled. Without their assistance, I’d have spent my lunch tapping the likes of “bkeila”, “einkorn” and “galotyri” into my phone (full marks for knowing that’s a Tunisian spinach and herb paste, an ancient wheat, and a Greek soft cheese respectively). There’s no question that Rovi is a Yotam Ottolenghi production. All the hallmarks of this globally-minded chef are there, from the treasure trove of ingredients to the vegetarian-friendly menu and boundless, borderless creativity. But there’s also a new dimension to his style – several, actually – that we haven’t really seen before. For a start, he’s cooking over live fire for the first time and introducing fermentation to the mix. More significantly, he’s putting sustainability front and centre. From the low-intervention wine list to the biodynamically-farmed fruit in the bircher muesli, this bustling canteen – all travertine stone, tactile oak and Bauhaus chandeliers – reflects how a lot of Londoners want to eat right now.
Celeriac shawarma, Rovi’s best-known dish, is a case in point. A far cry from the late-night street food standard, it involves celeriac both wood-roasted and lightly pickled, piled onto puffy fresh pita bread with crispy onions and spread with bkeila, cooling crème fraîche and lashings of fiery red fermented tomato and chilli. It’s not a tidy eat, but there’s not a high note it doesn’t hit (think: salt, fat, acid, heat). Mussels with cascabel oil and hay-smoked pink fir apple potatoes seem mild-natured by comparison but conceal a secret assassin – that’s a whole green chilli in the moreish soupy broth. Don’t overlook Rovi’s meat dishes: congee with braised beef puts a new angle on the comfort food classic with the addition of pickled daikon, black sesame, fermented tomato, and a verdant burst of fresh chilli, spring onions and coriander. More is always more here – that one extra dimension that makes all the difference, be it the crisp puffed rice with the congee, the sage leaf in the mountain tea kombucha or even the speck of salt that seasons the perfect little sugar-dusted doughnuts with plum sauce and bay.
Meal for two (with wine): £120
Signature dishes: Celeriac shawarma, bkeila, fermented tomato
What to drink: A choice of four gin and tonics using fresh seasonal ingredients such as pear, thyme and grapes
59 Wells Street, Fitzrovia, W1, ottolenghi.co.uk
In Merlin Labron-Johnson, The Conduit, a members’ club for the environmentally and socially conscious in Mayfair, has found a chef who shares its values. Merlin, who won a Michelin star at Portland and a Bib Gourmand at Clipstone, is one of the most engaged chefs in London; he’s cooked at refugee camps in Athens and Lesvos, contributed to the Chefs’ Manifesto (in support of the UN’s sustainable development goals), and implemented a food waste programme at The Conduit. Now if I were to tell you that my meal at its light and plant-filled fourth floor restaurant involved old bread and the dregs from the juicer, it mightn’t sound terribly appetising, but to see such ingredients on the plate magicked into exciting new guises is inspiring. We start with a snack of Cornish mackerel from Kernow Sashimi (a small family business that promotes the Japanese ike jime method, the most humane method of killing fish) with a delicious cracker made by boiling up, drying and roasting off “recycled” Snapery Bakery sourdough. Sharp persimmon and a dusting of vibrant purple beetroot powder (made from those juicer dregs) lends tartness.
Labron-Johnson’s menus are led by the growing season and sourced from three main farms including OrganicLea, an East London cooperative that delivers by bicycle. Meat is not off the table: Labron-Johnson uses game, rare breed pork and beef from retired dairy cows. Sussex mallard on toast with a garnish of preserved blackberries, fresh and orange and watercress looks simple but the flavour from the offal cooked in duck fat is immense. For dessert, try Labron-Johnson’s signature Paris-Brest – a crispy almond-topped choux pastry filled with praline cream that rightly follows him wherever he goes.
Meal for two (with wine): £100
Signature dishes: Paris-Brest
What to drink: Étienne & Sébastien Riffault’s biodynamic Sancerre
40 Conduit Street, Mayfair, W1, theconduit.com
Lyle’s is a spartan space in an old tea factory, its Windsor chairs, oak tables and concrete floor enhanced by the changing light that pours in through steel-framed windows. Environmental Science Graduate James Lowe, a St John and Fat Duck alumnus, cooks without fanfare, quietly reimagining what sustainable modern British cooking might be. From the lunch menu (dinner is a £59 prix fixe), fudgy chunks of Delica pumpkin arrive in a foamy bath of whey butter (the butter made in-house; the whey a byproduct of said butter) with a grassy swirl of Styrian PDO pumpkin oil. Puntarelle with anchovies and home-cured Old Spot has a more Italianate character, using best-in-class ingredients such as Ryeland mutton, Ortiz anchovies and lemons by French grower Bachès. A St Jude cheese ice cream with buckwheat biscuit and russet apples fuses a cheese course with apple crumble to delightful effect. Lowe’s understated style has won him a Michelin star and a place in the World’s 50 Best. His follow-up, Flor (a wine bar and bakery in Borough) arrived this spring.
Meal for two (with wine): £150
Signature dishes: None – the menu rarely repeats itself – but Lowe is particularly well known for game cookery
What to drink: Wines by top natural wineries such as Lazio’s Le Coste and Austria’s Christian Tschida
56 Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch, E1, lyleslondon.com
At Daylesford’s new Brompton Cross outpost, eating virtuously comes easily. There’s little on the menu that doesn’t sound as if it might do me good. Drinks alone run from functional botanical infusions to kefirs, botanical cocktails, turmeric shots and bone broths. I choose a green juice packed with leafy greens (I can have a flat white anywhere). To begin, chicken bone broth spiked with fiery root ginger and chilli delivers a satisfying intensity. My visit falls on a Monday, meaning all specials are meat-free: think mushrooms arancini with roasted pepper sauce and Moroccan butternut squash stew with quinoa. I choose sourdough pizza with nut cheese in place of mozzarella, Jerusalem artichoke purée in place of tomato sauce. It’s not so much a pizza bianca as a “pizza verdi” adorned with sprout tops, peppery rocket and delicious charred artichokes.
Daylesford’s wish is to “tread as lightly as we can on this planet”. This mission statement informs the experience from top-to-toe. Even the magnificent nine metre tree trunk that stretches up from basement to first floor restaurant came from a dying oak tree found on the Daylesford organic farm in Gloucestershire. The café is airy and attractive and a handy pitstop just a stone’s throw from the Conran Shop and a few more again from the V&A.
Meal for two (with wine):£75
Signature dishes: Super greens eggs Benedict with wilted green kale and cavolo nero
What to drink: Cold pressed juices, nut blends, drinking broths
76-82 Sloane Avenue, Chelsea, SW3, daylesford.com
Native had to beat a hasty retreat from its original Neal’s Yard home last summer, before pitching up at a larger site in Borough just a few weeks later after a successful Kickstarter. The new spot suits it, a cavernous semi-industrial space warmed up with fur throws, white-painted wainscoting and tumbling foliage. Founders Imogen Davis (need to know: she’s a falconer) and Ivan Tisdall-Downes (ex-River Cottage HQ and Blue Hill at Stone Barns) are passionate about wild food from Britain’s coastlines, hedgerows and forests (they’ve been known to serve squirrel).
They’re passionate too about zero waste production, which they express through the thought-provoking menu and wine list (which favours organic and biodynamically produced wines). Cornish sardines and Isle of Wight tomatoes come with “yesterday’s bread”, for example, and the tasting menu (from £60) opens with “chef’s wasting snacks” such as a crisp tangle of deep-fried vegetable peelings with curried squash purée. “We call it our compost heap pakora”, notes a waiter. My rose veal ragout, layered into a lasagne-esque assembly with celeriac sheets, house-pickled walnuts, garlic butter, breadcrumbs, Lincolnshire Poacher and homemade ricotta (the leftover whey goes into their potato risotto) proves that just because a dish uses up leftovers doesn’t mean it can’t be almost indecently delicious. A douglas fir and millet cake uses buttermilk sorbet from butter-making. Though some dishes are more “rustic” than pin-prick precise, I leave feeling galvanised. Why can’t more restaurants be like Native?
Meal for two (with wine): £120
Signature dishes: The wood pigeon kebab
What to drink: Sea buckthorn Negroni, English vermouth
32 Southwark Street, Southwark, SE11, eatnative.co.uk
Such was the success of his Blandford Street “pop-up“ Roganic in 2011 to 2013, Simon Rogan of two Michelin star L’Enclume in the Lake District jumped at the chance to revive it in 2018 – this time for the long haul (he’s also opened another in Hong Kong). The new-look Roganic, a few doors down from the original, is one of a pair of London restaurants for Rogan (the other being his chef’s table and development kitchen Aulis) that represent the landscape, ingredients and environment that inspire L’Enclume. Many ingredients hail from Rogan’s own farm there.
There’s a choice of menus including “business lunch” (£35) and tasting menus (£65/£85). The longer, 16-course version is quite a time commitment but it’s worth it. Each dish different and each plate too (bark, stones, seed and ceramics are brought into play). Menus change regularly but may include preserved pumpkin tartlets with bay; a crisp chicken skin cracker with cod’s roe emulsion overlaid with paillettes of pickled heritage carrot; and dry-aged Cumbrian beef with ox tongue ragu. The cooking is technical but as clean and fresh as the Lakeland air.
Meal for two (with wine): £220
Signature dishes: Apple tart, pine ice cream
What to drink: Ambient tea alternative to wine flights
5-7 Blandford Street, Marylebone, W1, roganic.uk
Occupying the uncharted space where “bar”, “restaurant” and “experimental supper club” collide is Cub, a collaboration between Mr Lyan (aka Ryan Chetiyawardana, bartender and disrupter) and chef Doug McMasters of Brighton “zero waste” pioneer, Silo. If I’m making it sound a bit concept-y, ignore me and go by Cub’s own subtitle “Good Things to Eat and Drink” – for that’s what we’re for. And that’s what we get in the form of a fluid, drinks-led menu (£67 for drinks and food) served at tables fashioned from recycled yoghurt pots (the silver terrazzo effect comes from the lids). Our first sip is Rare Tea Company oolong and in the course of the evening we segue from a coupette of Krug (LVMH are Cub allies) to a shimmering fungus and kelp broth and a dainty cocktail of apple amazake, green olive and Bruichladdich whisky. We have only one wine: Domaine Josmeyer’s sprightly Pinot Blanc, with salsify glazed with a “treacle” made of vegetable trimmings and garnished with dandelion.
This is no Bacchanalian feast which my guest and I are glad of; we eat and drink mindfully, leaving clear heads the morning after. Two dishes, in particular, delight: a crunchy brined fennel heart dusted with fennel pollen and onion seeds in a groovy duochrome pool of crab apple and juniper; and chestnut purée and buttermilk sorbet with birch sap and a lick of sage oil. Clever and captivating, Cub proves that sustainability and luxury can and should co-exist.
Meal for two (with wine): £134
Signature dishes: Broth, bread and butter
What to drink: Krug Grande Cuvée Water Jelly
153 Hoxton Street, Hackney, N1, lyancub.com