TV's ubiquitous Aldo Zilli, veteran of cheeseball shows from This Morning to Celebrity Fit Club, is not, perhaps, the most likely ethical pioneer. But the Italian chef is responsible for a significant milestone in the movement towards meat-free eating. Earlier this year, he bravely converted his Soho flagship, Signor Zilli, into a vegetarian restaurant, Zilli Green.
The new restaurant is busy, buzzy and cramped, and few of the earth's precious resources seem to have been squandered in the refit. But Zilli Green deserves applause, too, because the food is really good. Erstwhile Zilli head chef Enzo di Marino, a vegan for 12 years, has returned from travelling the world with a repertoire of multi-cultural dishes which steers clear of meat-substitute clichés like vegeburgers.
Zilli Green's menu, necessarily seasonal, is closer to the inventive vegetarian cooking of California than the wholemeal sludge we tend to get in the UK. Alongside the expected pasta dishes and risottos, there's a colourful profusion of global ingredients: skewers of plantain, lemongrass and aubergine served with a bean tagine; smokily spiced black bean chilli; courgette "sushi" stuffed with quinoa and wild mushroom. And to Aldo Zilli's relief, his regular customers seem to have taken to the new concept.
When it comes to being more green when we eat out, we can all do our bit, whether it's ordering tap water over bottled, choosing local and seasonal produce, or avoiding over-fished species and intensively reared meat. But the simplest thing we can all do to make a difference is to eat less meat. Zilli Green makes that a bit easier to do.
Tracey MacLeod is The Independent Magazine's restaurant critic. For more information, see zillirestaurants.co.ukReuse content