Looking for the best sustainable restaurants? Want to find the best restaurants using local ingredients? Read on for the best sustainable places to eat across the UK…
Ugly Butterfly, Chelsea
A restaurant on the King’s Road in Chelsea, that doubles as a champagne bar, might not seem like the obvious spot for a sustainable restaurant but chef and restaurateur Adam Handling has pulled it off. A collaboration between Handling and the Quintessentially Foundation, which provides funding and builds awareness for charities, Cadogan Estates (a family business that owns and manages part of Chelsea), and The Felix Project, which collects surplus food and delivers it to local charities and primary schools, Ugly Butterfly is a lesson in reducing, reusing and recycling.
Exposed, painted brick is matched with upcycled tables and chairs, and art is swapped for mission statements and banana bread recipes (the latter of which is definitely worth a photo of). Staff can excitedly tell you the story behind each dish – how the ingredients are left over from Adam’s other Chelsea restaurant and cycled here to be resuscitated. There’s Handling’s signature doughnuts – light, fluffy, incredibly moreish – filled and showered with a cloud of waste cheese from the Belmond Cadogan Hotel’s cheeseboard. Aforementioned banana bread (damp and sweet, made with overripe fruit) is, ingeniously, paired with chicken butter topped with chicken-skin scratchings. ‘Skins, skins and more skins’ – bubblewrap pork crackling, Sunday-roast chicken skin and fish-supper fish skin – is additive snacking while sipping on a glass of cold fizz, which itself is surprisingly good value (especially the further up the list you go). And, ox cheek and cheese toastie, which comes with its own pot of thick, glossy gravy for dunking, makes you wonder why you’d ever eat anything but leftovers.
The Black Swan at Oldstead and Roots, York
Tommy Banks jokes that his committed approach to sustainability simply stems from being a “tight Yorkshireman” and any frugality comes from growing up in a farming family. But his methods go well beyond saving money at his Michelin-starred and internationally acclaimed restaurant-with-rooms The Black Swan at Oldstead and York small-plates restaurant, Roots. The majority of produce used in both kitchens is as local as the Black Swan’s garden and family farm itself, the rest is from small local suppliers – often the fruit and veg no-one else wants, such as 80kg of unripe strawberries. But it’s the way the produce is utilised that makes Tommy a true sustainability star – from using one Hispi cabbage to feed 16 people (the outside leaves are used as wraps at the Black Swan, while the hearts are roasted at Roots), to the waste whey, from homemade cheese using raw milk, which is used four times, across two savoury dishes, in ice cream, and caramelised and grated on top of carrots.
He’s also mindful of his carbon footprint, using induction hobs rather than gas and, because they’re not on mains electricity at The Black Swan, the waste heat from a diesel generator is used to heat up water tanks to heat water for the restaurant’s bedrooms, as well as the polytunnel where the seedlings grow.
Native, London Bridge
Borough Market’s Native celebrates the country’s best wild food that is indigenous to the UK, with most of the ingredients foraged from London and surrounding countryside. Run by Ivan (who trained at New York’s Blue Hill Farm and River Cottage HQ in Devon) and Imogen, the duo serves à la carte and tasting menus. Zero-waste snacks include celeriac tacos, yesterday’s bread and sourdough crackers, while meat is served in imaginative ways, from wood pigeon kebabs to venison sausage rolls. Desserts often feature a savoury spin, be it hay-baked pumpkin pie or the signature dish, a bone marrow filled with white chocolate.
Silo, Hackney Wick
For St John-trained Douglas McMaster, his zero-waste epiphany came when he worked in an Australian restaurant that threw away too much. “I just knew something was wrong,” says the chef, who has reduced his own waste by simply not having bins in his kitchens. Douglas and his team use every part of the vegetables and animals, with pickling and fermenting techniques employed to make everything last longer. Whether it’s using eco-friendly clingfilm or using vegetable skins, Douglas goes the extra mile. “I’m doing everything I can to provide an alternative,” he says.
Haar, St Andrews
Dean Banks comes from Arbroath, on Scotland’s north-east coast, and the restaurant’s name Haar (a Scottish mist that rolls in off the sea) is a nod to the seaside location. The à la carte menu focuses on sharing dishes, small and large, while a six-course tasting menu steals some of its stars. Dishes mix up local, seasonal ingredients (Dean is keen to keep Scottish seafood in Scotland and champions local producers) with Asian culinary influences gleaned from his travels (think Fife rare-breed pork belly with kimchi puree or vividly spiced octopus on a tangy bed of citrus barley, with a burnt tomato puree and coriander oil).
It’s also worth hitting the Haar Bar for one of the signature cocktails (which change nightly, like menu specials). If they’re on try a Mary Queen of Scots (Uwa Reposado, Darnley’s Gin, clove and cinnamon syrup, mint and lime).
Carters of Moseley, Birmingham
At Carters of Moseley, Brad Carter uses exclusively British-sourced produce and little-known or ‘lost’ ingredients such as lemony Douglas fir (yes, the same as your Christmas tree) and kaffir lime leaves grown in Evesham rather than Asia. As well as growing produce on his urban allotment, Brad’s commitment to sustainability goes beyond the plate. Carter gives his sous vide bags to a company that recycle them and turn them into children’s plastic toys. The money made from these toys is given to Hospitality Action, a charity for hospitality workers who have fallen on tough times.
Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham
You may imagine that Michelin-starred restaurants, our most cerebral hospitality environments, are pace-setters in sustainability. In fact, the holistic changes which Sat Bains has introduced at his restaurant-with-rooms remain rare.
Sat made headlines in 2015 when he reduced his staff’s working hours to four days-a-week, while continuing to pay them the same salary. In an industry fighting over a small pool of talented chefs, Sat wanted to make this two-Michelin-starred property a more attractive place to work. But it was also about rewarding his team. “We took a massive [financial] risk for their future,” says Sat, who talks about demonstrating, by example, how restaurants can treat staff in a fair, nurturing way: “It’s an obligation we have as restaurateurs.”
In recent years, Sat has overseen several other innovations that are, similarly, virtuous circles: moves which have made his restaurant leaner, greener and tastier. This journey started when the University of Nottingham asked Sat to help them create a solar-powered house. He showed the team how to cook his famous 62C duck egg, pea and ham dish in a low-temperature oven and, subsequently, a Ph.D student visited to analyse where Sat’s kitchen was wasting energy: “Our electricity bill was going through the roof, £40k- £50k-a-year, just ridiculous. It was a really good learning curve.”
The restaurant switched to LED lights, energy-efficient induction hobs and invested in a composting system, Closed Loop Organics, which processes the vast majority of Sat’s food waste. The composter both radically reduced the restaurant’s landfill disposal costs (“Bin liners full of wet vegetable waste are about 90% water. You’re paying to bin water!”), and produces a nutrient-rich compost which is used to grow everything from nasturtiums to tomatoes in the restaurant’s two recycled Victorian glasshouses and along a rainwater-fed living wall in the car-park.
“We do a kohlrabi tagliatelli cooked in a butter, nutmeg and parmesan rind stock, and then, at the table, we make a pesto from the beautiful greenhouse cresses. You can’t get fresher. We’re showing that in an urban environment, under pylons and a flyover, you can grow delicious stuff.”
This elegant basement fish restaurant is both a Glasgow institution and a sustainability pioneer. Inspired by the Slow Food movement and the crisis around dwindling fish stocks, chef-owner Derek Marshall took a stand in 2010: “Gamba’s got a reputation for being expensive and using the best cuts of fish but, ultimately, it wasn’t always sustainable. We had to change our ways.”
Derek stopped using any endangered species and started using cheaper fish that are in plentiful supply. This switch to using Sri Lankan yellow-tail tuna for Gamba’s sashimi, or sustainably-farmed sea bass has not necessarily been easy.
“I’m not saying I’m 100% sustainable, I don’t think any fish restaurant could be,” says Derek, “but hopefully we’re 99%.” How switched-on diners are to these issues is moot. Rather than focussing exclusively on perceived luxury ingredients, such as langoustines or (highly endangered) skate, the public has embraced workaday fish such as hake, mackerel and bream but, says Derek.
“Customers’ perceptions of fish are strange. I’ve only got one whole fish on because I know customers don’t like bones. We have the areas where the fish comes from on the menu, so, hopefully, we’re educating people. But you’ll get one customer a week that’ll comment on it. Sometimes I think we’re fighting a losing battle, but we’re not, because we’re doing what we think is right.”
Yeo Valley Canteen, Somerset
Staff canteens are not known for being at the forefront of sustainable practice, but then, from its epic views from the Mendips out across Blagdon Lake, to its use of strictly local, seasonal ingredients, Yeo Valley’s is no ordinary canteen.
The company’s owners, the Mead family, have been farming in Somerset for generations and the canteen (opened to the public in 2015; breakfast/lunch), is, like Yeo Valley’s yogurts, a manifestation of the values which the Meads adhere to at their nearby, organic Holt Farm. In everything from the canteen’s accessible pricing to the company’s use of solar energy, the Yeo Valley businesses offer a living example of alternative, ethical food production. “When talking about sustainability, it’s not just about the final dish. It’s the whole back story,” says executive chef, Paul Collins.
Having conceived the canteen with owner Sarah Mead, Paul spent six months identifying a network of local suppliers who share their ethos. The canteen sources almost all its dairy and meat from Holt Farm. But the menu is, fundamentally, driven by what vegetables are arriving from suppliers such as The Community Farm or Strode Valley. Nature constantly intervenes: “We get texts saying there are no salad leaves this week because the deer have eaten them or they’re frozen, and we go, ‘okay, let’s go to plan B’. The menu changes in an instant,” says Paul.
By flexibly supporting these local suppliers, Paul is rewarded with superb ingredients such as 12-day hung chickens from Piper’s Farm or Blagdon Lake trout. The Canteen menu is short and relatively simple. It might typically include a burger, kedgeree, squash risotto, bubble ‘n’ squeak with kale and dill hollandaise. Paul wants to show that, when using incredible fresh produce, such humble dishes can shine: “That’s one of our goals, so that people go away saying, ‘it was just a tart or salad but it was amazing’.”
The Gallivant, Camber, East Sussex
The Gallivant’s owner, Harry Cragoe, doesn’t come from a hospitality background. Refreshingly, therefore, he has no preconceived ideas about how things should be done. For instance, where other owners might freak at the cost or logistics of it, The Gallivant sources 95% of its fresh ingredients from within 10 miles of this beachside restaurant-with-rooms.
Likewise, in tribute to the flourishing UK wine industry, Harry delisted champagne and now serves 30 British sparkling wines. “I’m totally in favour of reinvesting the money we receive from guests in the local community and, guess what? Our guests really like it,” says Harry.
His most radical departure, however, has been to ban tips and service charges and, instead, put all staff on at least £9-an-hour (far higher than the National Living Wage and even Living Wage Foundation rates). He also pays staff further performance-related and profit-share bonuses.
Harry dislikes the restaurant industry’s minimum wage culture and could not understand how the tips system (which often favours senior, long-serving staff) was fair: “In my business a housekeeper could be as valuable as someone waiting-on, so that was potentially unfair. And I didn’t think star performers should be paid the same as people going through the motions. It’s a weird way of incentivising people.”
The Gallivant’s new wage bill is “terrifying”, but Harry feels that improvements in pay, along with staff perks such as subsidised gym membership or company-funded training in wine or butchery, are essential if the restaurant industry is to attract talented, passionate staff. “Hospitality is a tough business: you work long, anti-social hours and it’s pretty stressful. If you want to retain good people and you want your staff to deliver a great customer experience, you need to pay them fairly.”
“We weren’t necessarily tree-huggers when we came here,” concedes Battlesteads’ owner, Richard Slade, “but we quickly realised that if we wanted to create something unique, we had to work with nature and the environment.”
For the past 14 years, the Slades (Richard and Dee) have done precisely that. They have created a beautiful inn by embracing the benefits of going green. In everything from cultivating the gardens to attract new bird life; forging links with local suppliers; or installing a carbon-neutral heating system. This engagement with Northumberland goes beyond infrastructure, too. Battlesteads provides meals for the village school and hosts an annual charitable beer festival. Rural businesses, says Richard: “have to be involved in the community…”
Captain’s Galley, Scotland
“Honestly, I’d never boiled an egg,” says Jim Cowie, as he recalls his decision, aged 52, to open his own restaurant. Seventeen years on, the Captain’s Galley in the Highland port of Scrabster, is one of the UK’s most revered seafood restaurants. Jim, it turned out, is a natural.
Not that he was starting entirely from scratch. Prior to reinventing himself as a chef, Jim worked as a fish trader, a job that took him to some of the world’s best restaurants. Moreover, Scrabster’s day-boat fishermen are lifelong friends of his. Each day, Jim visits the quay, buys his fish and writes a new menu. “I’ve no problem getting brilliant fish but, more than that, I know the fishing areas and what is in and out of season.”
Café ODE, Devon
The public is beginning to value green dining, but, says Café ODE owner, Tim Bouget, plates remain a sticking point. ODE serves up to 400 meals-a-day in compostable cardboard trays and: “It really annoys some of the older generation.”
Those numbers suggest that Tim is winning the argument, and his cafe above Ness Cove in Shaldon (“They call it a quaint drinking village with a fishing problem.”), is certainly built to last. Every detail of this stable block conversion – sedum roof sewn with wild flowers; solar thermal heating; lambs’ wool wall insulation – was chosen for its green credentials. “It’s the right thing to do and good business sense,” says Tim, who also runs Shaldon’s ODE Dining restaurant. “Why would we buy tables from a factory when we can get them made here and support local suppliers?”
Words by Mark Taylor, Tony Naylor, Lucy Gillmore, Ellie Edwards and Laura Rowe
Photographs by Tim Green, John Arandhara-Blackwell, Thomas Bowles, Jake Eastham