The eco eatery
Whatever you order, eating out comes with a side-dish of environmental damage. Now one award-winning chef is serving up Britain's first carbon-neutral restaurant. Rich Cookson reports
Thursday 18 May 2006
"The builders laughed at me when I first told them my ideas," says Barney Haughton. But judging by the number of workmen drilling, sawing and hammering in his new restaurant, they must have quickly realised that his highly ambitious project was no joke.
Haughton is standing in the middle of a gutted 1920s warehouse, on Bristol's historic dockside, which will send a gastronomic shockwave through the city and far beyond when it opens in a few weeks' time. By 7 August, this dusty building site will have been transformed into the most environmentally sustainable restaurant in Britain.
Haughton, already hailed as "one of the generals in the great organic army" by the restaurant critic Matthew Fort, and a "food hero" by the TV chef Rick Stein, has been working up the ideas behind his new eatery for seven years - so it's not surprising that he doesn't know quite where to start as we tour his new building.
Haughton's big idea is to run a combination of restaurant, bar, bistro, shop, bakery and cookery school that minimises the impact it has on the environment. "Restaurants are massively unsympathetic to the environment," he says. "In almost all restaurants in the developed world, chefs cook vegetables until they are almost done and then stop them cooking using running water or ice. Then they refresh them with boiling water when they're ready to serve. But there's no awareness at all that this wastes lots of energy and water - commodities that are becoming increasingly precious. For years, I've taken my veg out of the pan about 50 seconds before they're done - they carry on cooking and are ready when they get to the table. It's really simple."
Bordeaux Quay aims to be zero-waste and carbon-neutral and to source the vast majority of its produce from within 50 miles. But this won't be a hair-shirt experience - Haughton already has an impressive reputation as the man behind Quartier Vert, a Bristol restaurant and catering business, serving provincial European food, that puts high-quality ingredients at the heart of everything it does. QV has close associations with the Soil Association and the slow food movement, and counts Prince Charles among its customers. This week, Haughton won the Independent Spirit Award at the Glenfiddich awards, for his work promoting organic and sustainable foods.
Haughton says that people coming to Bordeaux Quay may not realise for some time that they're eating in a restaurant with a radical agenda. "I want people to experience brilliant food in beautiful surroundings - and then discover that's possible with a much more sustainable brief."
The scope of Haughton's ambition is impressive, ranging from how the building is refitted to what kind of waste and emissions it will produce. "My original idea was to reuse and recycle as much of the material that comes out of the building during refurbishment as possible," he says. "Most of the doors, the old shopfront, the bar structure and equipment, and the toilets will be reused here, while the flooring went to a local community centre. In a normal refurbishment about 50 per cent of the materials that come out go to landfill, but we've got that down to about 15 per cent. I wanted to send nothing to landfill - that was hopelessly ambitious!"
But this kind of ambition has forced people working on the project to step back and rethink the traditional way of doing things. "Most of the time I say: 'Why can't we do this?' and other people then go away and find a solution," he says.
The depth of his attention to detail becomes apparent as we walk around the building site. "Here we hope to have a composting system that could provide compost to some of the market gardeners supplying us. Here we'll store all the glass jars that we use. They'll be filled up with jam produced in our kitchens and sold in the shop." Rainwater will drain from the roof into a tank and be used in the toilets and dishwashers and to wash glasses, providing up to 60 per cent of the building's "grey water" needs.
"The floors here will be wooden - using Forest Stewardship Council certified wood - and the carpets over here made using recycled materials. The work surfaces for the cookery school will be made from recycled plastic, such as mobile phones. People will eat off tables covered with organic and Fairtrade tablecloths and napkins, which will have been washed using harvested rainwater and minimum use of detergents and dried in the plantroom where the boilers are..."
Unlike in most other restaurants, there will be no air conditioning, saving about 60 per cent on Bordeaux Quay's electricity bill and an estimated £45,000 in installation costs. A certain amount of the heat generated by the kitchens will go into the heating system, which will also include radiators. Enlarged ventilation ducting will ensure that no one overheats. "Eventually, we'll look at biomass heating too," he says.
"Overall, we aim to be carbon neutral - in both the construction and the running of the restaurant. We haven't quite achieved that in the building phase, but in a modest way we've achieved enough."
Haughton has already hired a sustainable development manager who is making sure the refit is as green as possible, and will ensure that Bordeaux Quay does whatever it can to stick to its stringent environmental and social principles. The vast majority of the food will come from with 50 miles of the restaurant.
"Within that area there are enough farms, veg growers, cheese-makers and other producers to give us almost everything we need to create a plate of food. And I want to translate that local produce into provincial European cooking.
"There will be a few exceptions for produce that simply can't be grown here: lemons, olive oil, peppercorns and a few other essential ingredients - but when you look at the transport costs for them they are quite small." Wines will also be carefully selected to minimise food miles ("But if you're serious about wine, you really have to look beyond England," he says).
The emphasis on local food means that the chefs will rely entirely on what's in season. The restaurant will buy whole animals rather than cuts of meats, "which means there'll be offal and cheap cuts of meat on the menu".
Haughton says: "We also need to eat less meat so there will be more vegetable dishes. Fish is also a crucially important area for us to address. Dover sole and langoustine have become common, when they should be incredibly special. Zander, pike, brown trout, crayfish and eels are all likely to be on the menu.
"I want to make loads of money in the restaurant," he says, bluntly, but continues, "so it can go into the cookery school upstairs, which will provide education courses for people of all ages - including children - and incomes. The whole idea is to tell stories of cookery and get across the idea that food is exciting and appealing and real. It's essential that we get away from the idea that the future is about deprivation - doing without."
Many of his ideas aren't new: St John, in London, has been dishing up offal to critical acclaim; Terroir, on the Norfolk coast, has been winning awards with food from its own kitchen garden and a 10-mile radius;the Dorchester, in London, has introduced induction hobs that save energy; the River Café, in west London, recycles all of its glass and cooking oil. But Bordeaux Quay is bringing all of these under one roof.
Haughton says: "I hope that Bordeaux Quay will have a big impact on the way Bristol shops, cooks and eats. I also hope it's a model for other restaurants in how they think about carbon, water, energy, waste and sourcing food. It's an illustration of what's possible."
Where to eat with a clear conscience
Bordeaux Quay is the first restaurant to attempt to be eco-friendly from its foundations up. But other excellent places are serving locally sourced and organic food
* Konstam at the Prince Albert, 2 Acton Road, London, WC1X 9NA (020-7833 5040)
Oliver Rowe's King's Cross restaurant only serves food sourced within the M25. There's Thames-caught fish, mushrooms grown in East Ham, potatoes from the chef's own allotment and even wine from Cobham
* The Millrace 2-4 Commercial Road, Kirkstall, Leeds (0113-275 7555)
Responsibly produced, organic foods and an all-organic wine list mark this place out. The menu is modern British and the quality is excellent, with vegan options alongside meat dishes.
* Riverford Field Kitchen - Riverford Organic Vegetables, Wash Barn, Buckfastleigh, Devon (01803 762 074 - open daily if booked in advance)
See the food growing in the fields on a tractor-trailer tour of the farm, then go and eat it in a one-sitting communal meal of home-grown, home-cooked food. Talk about locally sourced.
* The Swan Inn, Craven Road, Lower Green, Inkpen, Berkshire (01488 668 326)
The owners here are organic farmers and supply this country pub with their own organic beef, giving comforting pub classics such as lasagne and chilli con carne an extra je ne sais quoi.
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