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Sun, Oct 26, 2008 - Page 12 News List

London develops a taste for ‘gastro’ eco-friendly fare

By Jennifer conlin  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LONDON

At first glance, the Duke of Cambridge, with its sleek bar, hardwood floors and dark blue ceiling, looks like any other upscale London “gastro-pub.” Yet its standard blackboard — normally scrawled with names of ales at other pubs — reveals instead a list of the restaurant’s ethical business practices, including a promise that 80 percent of its fresh produce comes from the “Home Counties.” And in place of a printed menu on each antique table, diners find a flier providing yet another two pages of eco-facts about Britain’s first certified organic pub.

“In the beginning, I kept the environmental aspects of my business very quiet,” said Geetie Singh, whose pub, which she founded in 1998 in Islington in North London, was until two years ago the only restaurant in London with a strict environmental agenda.

“It was just my own philosophy. Now, all my customers want to know the provenance of the meat, how the fish was caught and how our green energy policy works. So now, I am happily providing them with information,” Singh said.

Singh is not alone. There is a new crop of green restaurants around London, run by chefs who may want to be at one with the environment but also don’t want to limit their customers to vegan fare. These eco-friendly chefs are not only working to reduce their carbon footprint by buying local produce whenever possible, but are also trying to expand their businesses by teaching customers that eating green does not have to be a culinary sacrifice.

“My first job is to serve bloody good food,” Singh said.

But while reading up on her restaurant’s many policies — no fish is bought that is not approved by the Marine Conservation Society; the pub’s electricity is solar and wind-generated; all parts of every animal are used — I wondered if eating locavore might take all the fun out of eating out. Any such thoughts vanished the moment a mixed leaf salad of feta with roasted tomatoes, roasted squash and pesto was placed before me, followed by a colorful plate of red mullet in a white bean, chorizo and mussel cassoulet.

In fact, it takes an interested customer to learn that Oliver Rowe’s restaurant, Konstam at the Prince Albert, gets more than 85 percent of its produce from in and around Greater London. It is written in small print on the bottom of the menu, along with the fact that £0.50 from each soup sold this month goes to a charity to fight hunger. If one happens to flip the menu, she will learn where many of the ingredients originate — mushrooms from East Ham, fish from the Thames, carrots from Brick Lane.

Yet the restaurant, near King’s Cross St Pancras, is so futuristically designed, with teal walls and chain-mail draperies, it feels anything but ecologically friendly. In contrast is the open kitchen, where diners can watch staffers toss wild greens for a hazelnut salad; grill whole sea bass, pigeon breasts and pork chops; and slice wedges of local Waterloo, Wigmore and Spenwood cheese.

Like the Duke of Cambridge, the Daylesford Cafe in Pimlico, which opened last February, sells only 100 percent organic and certified soil-association food in their pristine, all-white, three-story restaurant near Sloan Square in southwest London. Packed at lunchtime with customers sharing communal white marble tables and savoring “field to fork” dishes like beetroot and bacon soup, mackerel tartare, wild hare salad, venison burgers and even biodynamic champagne, it has become a gathering place for London’s healthy bourgeois.

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