Mighty oaks from little acorns grow
Acorn House in King’s Cross has been on my radar for sometime. As London’s first truly eco-friendly training restaurant, it has had alot of press attention, with the Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler declaring that”All Restaurants should emulate” it and Giles Coren of The Times saying that it’s “The most important restaurant to open in London in the past 200 years”. It’s also less than 10 minutes from my workplace and has been recommended by colleagues and friends. In the OFM food awards in 2007 it won best newcomer.
Established by chef Arthur Potts Dawson and manager James Grainger-Smith both formerly of Fifteen in Shoreditch, it’s a social enterprise created by the Shoreditch Trust which delivers hands on training to the local community. The food is centred around health, training, community and the environment. They aim to be the most recyclable restaurant in London, by allowing as much as 80% of its waste to be recycled. In cooperation with the local councils and London Remade it will test out new waste management strategies in a restaurant environment, it offers reusable cutlery and all takeaway containers are eco-sensitive and they offer customers options of serving sizes to allow for differing appetites which creates less food waste. They have their own site for storage of dry recyclables with space for a ‘PIG’ compostor and a wormery providing soil for the restaurant and the roof of the storage area is used to grow herbs (and potentially grow insect attracting plants) in the centre of Kings Cross. Added to all of this, the restaurant and the recycling site act as an educational resource for the public, schools and a new breed of trainee chefs. When it comes to the food itself, the menus are seasonal with ingredients sourced from small independent suppliers, they buy fair trade where possible, locally and never use air freight, they have a strict fish purchasing policy and demand positive animal husbandry.
All that sounds great, truly an inspiration for other restaurants, but, what of the food? I’ve availed of their takeway lunch a number of times, usually the half panini and small soup for £5, always flavoursome and healthy. So, why didn’t I eat there properly until this week? I think it’s one of those situations where it’s just down the road and I can go anytime (even if I subsequently don’t) and, ever the procrastinator I put it on the long finger. This week, however, I finally went there for lunch with some colleagues.
I like the interior of Acorn House, it’s bright and airy with a relaxed elegance. We got a nice round table by the open kitchen at the back and started off with some olives and bread. I started to peruse their January menu. There were two soups on offer: pumpkin, thyme and pancetta & celeriac, chestnut & horseradish. They sounded delicious, but time was short so I decided not to get one – I will definitely be trying them for a take-away lunch soon though. There’s also cured meat selections (including the sublime San Daniele ham) and salads on offer, which, again, look great but I had my eye on the fish dish – chargrilled organic salmon with cardamom and horseradish served with 2 salads. It was a popular dish – most of us had it with others opting for the duck confit, the ravioli with chard, mascarpone & fried sage or the tartine with pumpkin, mascarpone and stilton (changed from the option on the menu which was tartine with pumpkin, ricotta & onion marmalade).
Before I start, I am not sure about the diner choosing the salad accompanying their main course, I wonder if the chef is best placed to do this? It reminds me of create-your-own pizzas which, having once worked in a pizza restaurant, I can testify are often chosen badly. However, it is nice to have the choice, if you can trust yourself. It’s January, and, (I am supposed to be) all about health and recuperation, so I decided to go for the beetroot with parsley, as beetroot helps your liver deal with xmas party stresses (I had a few of those!), and for the second one broccoli with almonds.
How was it? The fish was cooked perfectly – tender and moist, the cardamom and horseradish was a really unusual accompaniment and quite nice. The duck confit went down a treat as did the ravioli, but, the tartine was proclaimed too rich. The salads were really great: wholesome and healthy.
So, next for dessert. I opted for the ginger pudding with dark rum and double cream. It was wonderfully light. Other choices were the flourless chocolate cake with cardamom ice cream and Eccles Cake with Vanilla Custard. Everyone was really pleased with their choice, it was a lovely end to the meal.
So, what did I think? Very good food but at £16 for a fish main course and £6.50 for a dessert it needs to be excellent. But it is sustainable, eco-friendly and a friend to the local community, and this, it seems, comes at a price. I think it’s worth it.
Acorn House, 69 Swinton Street, London WC1, tel: 0207 8121842.