Terra Firma, Shaftesbury and Organic Café Grill & Bar, London

A community café in a converted church? It may smack of virtuousness, but step inside and you can eat like a sinner
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Is it just me who finds the word "organic" is beginning to grate more effectively than an indispensable Microplane from Lakeland? And I'm an advocate. I don't want to be an organic bore. Can we just agree it's a good thing, I won't have to go on repeating it, and you can take it as read that the two places where I've just eaten are predominantly or entirely organic, exceptionally welcoming and unusually generous-spirited?

Terra Firma is more than a café. Subtitled "earthly pleasures", it comes with a chapel turned into a gallery space and venue attached. Ingredients are from local suppliers, there's wine, beer, cider and soft drinks, the policy isn't laboured but it succeeds in making good food part of a community and cultural service.

On Monday there are lunches for pensioners, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays play sessions for children, on Thursdays an organic market, and high teas for families, and from Thursday to Saturday there's dinner as well as lunch. Enter the building either from Shaftesbury car park at the back or through the churchyard in front of the neo-classical façade. Once inside Terra Firma will see you right from cradle to grave; eat here often enough and it could extend the interval between the two.

The Friday lunch congregation ranged from a babe in a car seat and prep school boys with their mother, to an elderly man who was obviously a regular, with a bride, groom and witnesses in between. We assumed this foursome were fortifying themselves before the ceremony rather than celebrating afterwards. However welcome and wholesome the lunch menu is for anyone living in or visiting Shaftesbury, it's more a celebration of local produce than the kind of meal with which a married couple traditionally start their life together. Dinner may be another matter; we only tried the desserts.

Then again, a bowl of watercress soup (£3.50) with cream and chlorophyll in perfect suspension, billowing scrambled egg with smoked trout on caraway toast for £6.25, and, for the same price, a salad Nicoise loaded with marinaded anchovies, eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, olives and lettuce, came close to an ideal lunch discovery by strangers arriving in a Dorset town. I wouldn't mind it for a wedding breakfast.

When the alternatives for the progeny are usually pubs or a burger chain, Terra Firma is a dream pit stop for them too. Every item on their own menu began with an O. With chicken nuggets, chips and peas, or sausages, carrots, cucumber, and even ketchup now guaranteed to be you know what, it shows the extent of the packaging of organic food for children. Or rather for their parents' benefit. Ours never realised they were being offered something that was better for them than the usual fast food mini meal, and shovelled it in without any complaints. After showing their approval of the Green & Black chocolate bars in the shape of an endangered primate by standing on the chairs, they went and danced out of the way and almost out of earshot on the chapel floor.

Meanwhile, we could concentrate on our puddings: a dark chocolate cup filled with cream and cherries with cherry coulis on one side and pear on the other, and a slightly sloppy crème brulée with a thick demerara crust. They showed the large open plan kitchen has what it takes to rise above the day time café identity. For dinner these might be preceded by artichoke-heart hollandaise for £4.95, confit of duck, Thai green chicken curry or rack of Dorset spring lamb with cashew pesto for between £7.65 for vegetarian dishes to £16 for a fillet steak.

From this modern pastoral (and less than a year old) idyll for all ages and every occasion, to the urban ideological. London's original Organic Café's new venture is The Organic Café Grill & Bar in the Goethe Institute, a huge stucco house near Hyde Park. This meeting of German culture and earthy food might sound indigestible but the Café Grill & Bar is discrete, modish and comfortable. There was enough to encourage us to do everything possible to help the environment, and give us the excuse that when food and wine are unadulterated, the more we eat the more good it must do us.

As there are no starters, just a selection of bar snacks from foccacia with olives, chips with aioli, Thai fish cakes, steak sandwich, and steamed mussels in leek cream, we treated a Goethe salad with herring, bacon, apple and soured cream and a duck liver parfait and prune compote as such. At £5.30 and £6.25 respectively, prices appeared high, until the plates arrived. They weren't delicate but they were hugely satisfying. The herring was bolstered by salad leaves, rather large slices of apple and chunks of bacon, with sour cream and splashes of the inevitable and here inappropriate balsamic; the smooth pâté slathered on to slices of scratchy dense wholemeal bread – a little too conspicuously wholesome for my chum. And, she observed, if they believe it matters so much how food is produced, shouldn't we be told where it comes from.

We'd already destroyed a plate of olives and foccacia – huge triangles of oily, yeasty, doughy rosemary-needled bread – and our appetites. By the time a steak sandwich and lamb skewers on couscous arrived we were able to appreciate them only because they were such sumptuous renderings for their raw materials.

The steak sandwich came with unctuous bearnaise sauce. The lamb interspersed with sweet courgette and red onion, with a splash of tangy chermoula to chivvy the grilling process, was sensational. Fifteen pounds might seem like a lot for a kebab, but in swanky South Kensington for food that costs more to produce it's not extortion. And here's an economy tip. Rather than the char-grilled rib eye with chips, salad and bearnaise for £17.50, have the steak sandwich (£8.80) with huge, rectangular chips and assertively olive-oily aioli for £3.80. A saving of £4.90. There, I've done some work for you; it's ok, it's what I'm paid for.

After such abundant quantities of food (£30 a head including wine) pudding was unthinkable. There's a long, well-annotated wine list. Alternative main courses were chicken breast with mushrooms, shallots and red wine jus, salmon fishcake or grilled squash and wild rice with coconut satay sauce. Or you can sit at the bar, drink wine, have coffee, eat cake, and not think twice about the name of the café, the horrors of modern farming or your own health. Just enjoy it and appreciate that the people who run these two places seem to care about more than just making the maximum profit from cooking and selling food.

Terra Firma, Mustons Lane, Shaftesbury, Dorset (01747 858883) Mon-Wed 9.30am-5pm, Thu-Sat 9.30am-11pm. Lunch around £10 (children's meal £4), dinner around £20. Major cards. Wheelchair access

Organic Café Grill & Bar, 51 Princes Gate, Exhibition Road, London SW7 (020-7596 4006) Mon-Sat 11am-11pm, Sun 11am-5pm. Major cards. No wheelchair access

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