How to eat out sustainably
“Sustainability comes most starkly into play with fish restaurants, where there is still something of a fight to be had.”Allan Jenkins, editor Observer Food Monthly
Chatting with a Cornish fisherman the other day (as you do) I ventured to ask his opinion on the Marine Conservation Society (MCS). “Hmmmmm?” came the slow reply. Now, I’m probably not the first to realise that merrily quizzing a fisherman on sustainability is wading into particularly knotty territory. But for non-fisherwoman average-Joe diners like me who want to eat out sustainably, where do you even start?
Sustainable food has never been hotter, or more important – this year the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) launched its restaurant awards, Harden’s became the first restaurant guide to list SRA ratings, while Times restaurant critic Giles Coren has been including SRA ratings in his reviews for the past year.
Having this information at our fingertips makes it a lot easier to find sustainable restaurants. But, first up, what does sustainable even mean? The SRA handily breaks it down into three categories: sourcing, environment and society. According to Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the SRA and co-founder and CEO of the Leon group of restaurants, there are lots of different areas restaurants can look at and the ones that “do it” are doing all sorts of sustainable things.
So, rather than waffle on about them all, I decided to ask a range of people from the food world to let me know what they look out for when trying to dine sustainably…
(All further suggestions welcome @TheArtfulDiner.)
“In my opinion it’s all about seasonality. The product should be available locally and at its best. In the kitchen the one thing we do is exactly that, communicating with the supplier and making sure we use foods in season. This ensures the freshest locally sourced product available on that day.” Mickael Weiss, head chef, Coq D’Argent (2* SRA)
“For me, sustainability comes most starkly into play with fish restaurants, where there is still something of a fight to be had. I wouldn't buy dredged scallops or farmed sea bass, so if a restaurant tells me its scallops are hand-dived, its sea bass is line caught, I am much more likely to spend my money there.” Allan Jenkins, editor Observer Food Monthly
“I think it’s really important that a restaurant takes great care sourcing all of its products, but especially the meat and fish. Not only because the best products give the best flavour, but careful selection of meat and fish protects the environment. Good meat comes from good animals on good farms and likewise fish that is line caught is a lot better than fish that is trawled, which can destroy the sea bed, particularly in the case of dredged scallops.” Niamh Shields of food blog Eatlikeagirl
“Ask them what their sustainable restaurant rating is. If you want to dig a bit deeper you could ask the waiter what training they get on sustainability.” Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the SRA and Leon restaurants (2* SRA)
“With fish, if a restaurant talks about MSC accreditation that’s a good indicator, likewise if it sources fish from day-boats they’re never going to be depleting stocks because they’re too small. It’s very important that a restaurant knows exactly where its produce is coming from and the menu or waiter should be telling you.” Bruce Wilson, head chef Paternoster Chop House (3* SRA)
“A lot of the things that restaurants can do to improve their sustainability are back of house, so I think it’s good idea to look for the restaurant’s ethos. If you have sustainable policies you will want to shout about them.” Tim Bouget, founder of SRA Sustainable Restaurant of the Year, ODE (3* SRA)
“We try to use as much fish as possible from the British Isles, things like mackerel and crab, no weird tropical fish. MSC is a good thing to look for.” Dan Loftin, head chef, Kensington Place (2* SRA)
“I lean towards asking about the fish – it can be confusing so I want the restaurant to be able to tell me where it comes from.” Sabrina Ghayour, host of ‘Sabrina’s Kitchen’ supper club
“At the end of the day, for me, it’s about the relationship with my suppliers. My fish supplier is MSC certified and runs three day-boats off the south coast. He doesn’t fish for specific species, but what’s in season. Quality, seasonality and sustainability are all important. You can’t have one without the other.” Alan Jones, head chef of Almeida Restaurant (2* SRA)
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