Wishy-washy

Water House, Orsman Road, London N1

The path to hell is paved with good intentions, and Water House is awash with the things. The owners, James Grainger-Smith and Arthur Potts-Dawson, opened Acorn House in King's Cross in November 2006, to much acclaim: it was "London's first eco-restaurant". Though every eaterie in the UK now brags about the organic integrity of its artichokes, Acorn House eclipsed them all with its strict policies: 100 per cent waste-recycling, on-site water-purification, biodegradable packaging, natural lighting, vegetables from sustainable farms only, no air-freighted supplies, minimal use of vans, delivery in wooden crates – they even "encouraged" staff to cycle to work.

You may regard all this as environmentalism run wild, or as a laudable experiment in responsible catering; you may just wonder if it makes the food taste better. I welcomed the chance to sample eco-friendly cuisine when the double-barrelled pair opened their new gaff in north London. It's sandwiched between Hoxton and De Beauvoir Town, a godforsaken locale historically populated by tumbleweed and murderers, recently tarted up with Docklands-style lofts ("Blimey, things've changed a bit round 'ere," said our cab driver as we arrived).

The frontage of Water House is obscure to a perverse degree, inside an unprepossessing housing estate. But you find yourself in a welcoming room with distressed ceilings, industrial spotlights and basket-weaving on the walls. Through the window, there's a dispiriting view across the Regent's Canal to an industrial building whose lower walls are vivid with graffiti. Venice it ain't. But the atmosphere was fine, the eating area a symphony of glowing wood, white chairs and gleaming glassware.

The menu was, shall we say, different. Instead of starters, you're offered the "Delicatessen", a choice of three or five bits of cheese or charcuterie that included speck, salami, smoked mackerel, a runny mozzarella called Burrata di bufala, goat's cheese, Stilton, cod brandade and olives. It seemed eccentric to start one's lunch with cheese but my friend Madeleine and I ordered everything else between us. The mackerel was delicious. The salami and ham were tasty, though the Milano version had no pepper crust, as it's supposed to, and the Felino had no chilli. The brandade was served on toast (potato on bread – what was this, an upmarket chip butty?). It was all beautifully presented, but it wasn't exactly cooking.

The heart of the menu is the salads. You can choose three or four as a starter, and one or two with your main course. If you thought salads were raw items like lettuce thrown together with a dressing, it's time you woke up. At the Water House they're basically vegetables, some of them are cooked (braised carrots, roast beetroot) and the menu confusingly warns, "All our salads are served at room temperature". It's an odd kind of environmentalist, surely, who cannot distinguish vegetables from salads. The confusion of nomenclature extends to the "Pastas" selection – it includes a duck risotto, a dish in which you'd have trouble finding any pasta at all.

A larger problem extends to the riot of flavours promised by the main courses. How will you savour, say, the pork loin with aubergine, spinach and paprika if you have the curly kale "salad" with soy sauce and ginger? Won't the braised carrots cooked in honey, thyme and hazelnuts put up a fight if you match them with the salmon and black olive sauce? I chose the slow-roast lamb shoulder with mint and quince. It was indeed slow (and long-) roasted, with unadvertised but delicious roast potatoes. The meat was the kind my Irish aunties were doing 50 years ago, but the mint and quince sauce that accompanied it was a bad idea. Lamb has its own built-in sweetness and doesn't, in my humble view, need any more.

Madeleine's steamed cod with smoked brandade and beurre blanc was very white, very pure, wholesome and strangely characterless. The "salads", when they came, were little bonnes bouches of mini-carrots and shredded celeriac, too small to register on the palate's radar. This strangely pointless meal concluded with a gooey chocolate torte with (oh God) black pepper ice cream. Could someone have a word with the chef about leaving some flavours well alone?

As we had an alfresco fag on the canalside, watching a scary chap with a Rottweiler walk by the far wall, Mr Potts-Dawson showed us his pride and joy: a waste bin called Can O'Worms in which thrown-out food is composted down with the help of invertebrates. The resulting organic gunge becomes the soil in which the house's herbs are grown. He further explained how the canal water powers an electric generator, which fuels the restaurant without burning any carbon gases at all. These men really are are a credit to the catering trade – if not yet to the art of gastronomy.

Water House, 10 Orsman Road, London N1 (020-7033 0123)

Food 2 stars
Ambience 3 stars
Service 3 stars

Around £80 for two, with wine

Eco-friendly

Bordeaux Quay

Barney Haughton’s restaurant, brasserie, bar, deli, bakery and cookery school in Bristol has impeccable eco-friendly credentials, gorgeous views over the river and faultless cuisine.

Canons Road, Bristol (0117-943 1200)

Monachyle Mhor

As well as having a good recycling record, this chic hotel also plans to switch to hydro-electric power. The produce is sourcedfrom the surrounding estate; try the Monachyle venison.

Balquhidder, Perthshire (01877 384622)

Konstam at the Prince Arthur

Dishes such as Amersham pork chop reflect the eco-ethos at this King’s Cross pub – which is that ingredients are sourced from within London’s tube network.

2 Acton Street, London WC1(020-7833 5040)

Acorn House

London’s first truly eco-friendly restaurant and the big sister to Water House is eco-conscious in design, delivery and provenance – andthe food lives up to the ideal, too.

69 Swinton St, London WC1(020-7812 1842)

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor