Abby Guilding is hardly the type to knock restaurant awards– not after Star Bistro, the Cheltenham-based outfit run by her charity Wiggly Worm, scooped one of the top accolades at last year’s homage to the UK’s most sustainable restaurants.
And yet, she admits the shine of a win can get tarnished by the multitude of different celebrations out there. Not so the Food Made Good Awards, which is the new name for the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s annual roll call of dining establishments across the UK that serve the country’s most environmentally and socially ethical meals. Or, as Abby puts it, recognition for “going beyond just good food”.
For Abby, not to mention thousands of Star Bistro’s fan, there is one Food Made Good category that stands out, however: the People’s Favourite. Nominations remain open for one more week, until 7 February, and anyone can choose the places they feel serve not only the most delicious dishes but also use the power of food to make a positive difference. (See box for more details on how to vote, and what you might win as a thank you for your time.)
As well as feeding its customers, Star Bistro, which operates from two sites in Cheltenham, has changed hundreds of people’s lives. It is staffed by students from the National Star College, all of whom have disabilities. From more than 800 nominations last year, Star Bistro received more than 10,000 votes to be crowned the category’s inaugural winner. “Winning showed us that people appreciate places that go beyond good food. It something the public wants; we were humbled by the response,” Abby said. “We offer people with disabilities the chance to gain real work experience within a bustling dining environment with real customers paying real money. There’s not much else like it.” More than 250 people have benefited from training there.
Founder and chief executive Rob Rees has left Star Bistro to work in Melbourne, Australia, where he plans similar projects, but his original baby has continued to thrive under head chef Matt Black. Bookings increased and customers became even more engaged with what Star Bistro is doing on the back of the win, Abby added. “It’s been great for raising our profile. Winning will help smaller, independent places to get some more recognition and give them a national platform.” Star Bistro even starred on Channel 4’s Kitchen Impossible, where staff helped Michel Roux Jnr to train a group of young people with a range of disabilities to get jobs in the catering industry.
“We’ve also worked with numerous suppliers, schools and communities to help manage food surplus and feed it to those living in poverty in Gloucestershire,” Abby said. On the menu this month were beef short ribs served with winter vegetables and a herb dumpling; fish risotto; and fennel à la grècque, featuring slow braised fennel in a filo pastry basket.
Other places shortlisted last year included the Real Junk Food Project in Leeds, where diners can eat dishes prepared with food that would otherwise have been discarded; Brighton’s Silo, which purports to be the UK’s first zero waste restaurant; and the Bay Fish and Chips, in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, which serves locally sourced, sustainable food. It was the country’s first fish and chip shop to gain the Marine Stewardship Council’s approval to sell Scottish North Sea haddock.