Four years ago I wrote that most of what passes for "good food" is nothing of the sort. And by "good", I mean food that purports to be ethical. For instance, the idea that organic food is less harmful to the planet is pretty dubious; nor, if you think about it, is eating "local" produce a noble undertaking if it denies income to needier souls in the developing world, and uses up more food miles than supermarket produce (which in certain cases it does).
Most environmentalists eat meat, some by the truckload, and they, more than anyone, are aware that going vegetarian would do a great deal more to reduce carbon emissions than many of the policies they espouse.
Yet despite all the evidence to the contrary, the ethical eating juggernaut is still gathering momentum.
Some people make a career out of it, such as Jamie Grainger-Smith, who founded a company called TED – an acronym that stands for Think. Eat. Drink – years after being the brains and brawn behind Jamie Oliver's excellent Fifteen restaurants. TED is essentially a consultancy which was founded to help people in hospitality reduce their impact on the environment, and it has now spawned a restaurant on the Caledonian Road, near London's King's Cross, in breezy premises of bright colours and stripped wooden floorboards. It is a ludicrous name for a restaurant, of course, not least because it is a distraction from a superb menu in a setting that doesn't ram ethics down your throat at all. My wife and I took an inspired trio of her comrades from Cambridge, Jude, Umar, and Zeynep.
They do all manner of cocktails here, including a specially requested pina colada that made a nice change from the clarets of high table, which Jude and I demolished pretty quickly. There are eight starters, six mains, and five desserts; and apart from one dodgy side dish, there isn't a false note among them.
The beetroots with Kentish cobnuts and goats curd (£7) are exquisite in every respect: including the cooked purple nuts and perfectly thin and thick slivers of the golden ones, with an ideally sour note to the curd. I have excellent squid with cauliflower and curry leaves (£7.50), the latter mild and the former's florets sweet and juicy; and Jude's hand-chopped Scottish beef tartare with sourdough (£8) is luxurious and generously served – so much so my wife has it as a main. The same is true of the Cornish crab, which comes with a memorably luminous pink grapefruit and crunchy radish (£8). But best of all are Zeynep's Isle of Man scallops with saffron and preserved lemon butter (£9). These are fabulous: hot, small and served on their shells, with lashings of salty fat on top – this dish alone makes TED worth the visit.
The mains are hard to fault. A wild rabbit cottage pie with bitter leaves (£15) houses tender chunks of stewed meat in a crisp pastry; the risotto with leeks and pancetta is properly gloopy rather than greasy (£14.50); a ricotta gnocchi with ceps, girolles and parmesan cream (£15) is a mushroom-lover's dream; and the sea trout with mussels, Cornish crushed potatoes and sea vegetables (£16.50) is a success: the potatoes retaining just enough bite to stand up to a very fresh fillet of fish that comes apart in delicious flakes.
The Swiss chard gratin is good at £3.50, but a dish of Bull's heart tomatoes with olive oil and celery is bonkers. Big chunks of a cold, woolly, unseasoned tomato – with what turns out to be no celery at all for company – create an unfortunate miss, which is sent back to the kitchen. No such problems attend the desserts, which include wonderful variations on a panna cotta and affogato, as well as a rare greengage crumble, made from the lovely yellow-green plum.
By the time we ask for the bill, much thinking, and eating, and drinking have taken place at TED. But that would have been the case whatever the name of the restaurant. My advice would be do pay a visit if you're in the area, but focus on the real quality of the food, and forget about being the kind of guilt-riddled middle-class sop who likes to think they eat ethically, but doesn't actually know what that means.
TED, 47-51 Caledonian Road, London N1, Tel: 020 3763 2080. £100 for two, with drinks
Four more foodie notes from the past week
Corn on the cob
Roasted in the oven, this sweet and nutty snack is healthy and dead simple. It needs nothing other than a toothpick afterwards.
Apple and blackberry crumble
Made using fresh fruit picked from the garden and a long country walk in Suffolk.
To celebrate my dad's birthday, my mum made my favourite dessert from childhood: strained yoghurt with saffron and sugar.
Scotch and berries
An old-fashioned aside, I tend not to like whisky cocktails. But at the Ace Hotel in London's Shoreditch they do a lovely number.Reuse content