A restaurant traditionalist may hear the term ‘sustainable restaurants’ and start walking the other way. The potential for sanctimony and a pretty joyless experience is palpable. But, in recent years, eco-minded restaurants have been cropping up more and more – and there are serious gems among them. The fact that the planet is at at extreme risk of dying is causing reflection and revelations within many industries. Restaurants are under pressure to consider the farming practices of their suppliers, with agriculture accountable for 5.79 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year according to a report by The Eco Experts, not to mention their own piles of waste (food and otherwise) that are generated each year.
‘Goblin mode’ may have been Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year, but sustainability is (hopefully) the word of the next several decades. More than just a persistent buzzword, it’s infiltrated the restaurant world – in a good way, of course. In 2017, the SDG2 Advocacy Hub created the Chefs’ Manifesto, a project that brings together more than a thousand chefs across the world to explore how they can deliver a sustainable food system. And in 2020, Michelin introduced their Green Star to celebrate the restaurants in its guide that are at the “forefront of a more sustainable gastronomy.” It takes a lot of imagination, creativity, hard work and – crucially – hopefulness to bring an eco restaurant together. When things seem all too inevitable, these restaurateurs are trying to make a difference. And if there is a future for restaurants in a climate crisis-stricken world, this lot are carving it. That’s not to say that some joints won’t adopt the concept in a more cynical way (buzzword = attention = money), but those are usually relatively easy to weed out. You won’t find any of them here, this is a list only of the city’s best sustainable restaurants where the cooking is every bit as good as the intentions.
10 Miles Club
Bringing new meaning to the term ‘locally sourced’, the team behind the 10 Miles Club craft their menus out of ingredients that are grown, reared and milled within 10 miles of the venue, hence the name. Given their proximity to the produce, founders Emily Gussin and Sarah Smith have full traceability for everything they use and are able to limit carbon expenditure. Their seasonal, sustainable menus highlight the wealth of fantastic produce made right here in the capital and prove that with a little creativity it’s possible to eat local and eat very well indeed.
Michelin Green-starred joint Silo in Hackney Wick is so low waste that they don’t even have bins – any food that isn’t consumed is fed into an aerobic digester which can create 60kg of compost in 24 hours. Everything here is made from scratch, from milling the flower to churning butter, which reduces food miles and unnecessary processes. And all deliveries to the restaurant come in reusable crates or other containers, completely eliminating packaging waste, and the furniture and fittings are all upcycled. The menu changes regularly but you’re always going to start with slices of bread, “the Siloaf”, and aged butter. Other highlights include a dish of smoked mackerel with sea buckthorn (one of the few non-veggie dishes), the king oyster mushroom with koji, and the smoked potatoes with brown butter hollandaise.
Native at Browns
Native was founded by Imogen Davis and Ivan Tisdall-Downes and they’ve long been known for their sustainable, zero-waste approach to ingredients and cooking. Typical menus include foraged herbs and seaweed, sustainable meats and the best British veg. As they like to say “what grows together, goes together”, and this approach guides much of what you’ll find on the plate. Be sure to start with the Native wild-farmed focaccia with confit garlic oil.
With super low food miles, a practically non-existent carbon footprint and a low-waste mentality, Eleven98 is an uber-eco social dining experience. Every Friday, they welcome up to 12 guests to the chef’s table where they’re served up a nine-course feast of dishes made with produce exclusively grown in Hackney. Every vegetable, herb and piece of fruit on the menu has either been harvested by Eleven98’s Chef Patron Aidan Brooks at his personal veg garden in London Fields, foraged in the area or sourced from the Growing Communities garden and the St. Mary’s Secret Garden. The evenings are interactive, so while you tuck in, you’ll get to learn about the ideas behind the dishes and where they came from.
The Omni Collective
Plant-based Peckham spot The Omni Collective is micro-seasonal, meaning they use the best produce available and change up their menu every 3-4 weeks. Cutting out meat and dairy from the offering already makes a significant difference in the environmental impact of a restaurant, but Omni goes a step further, by pickling and fermenting any leftover vegetables and stocking only natural wines and locally sourced beers. For extra, extra points, Omni’s menu is totally free of the fake meat and vegan junk food that is so often found in plant-based restaurants.