These restaurants don’t just serve food – they’re on a mission to change how we think about eating out…
Field to fork, nose to tail; we are all becoming more conscious of food provenance and wastage and generally more ethical in our approach to cuisine. But there are restaurants taking it one step further and really having an impact on the world we live, one plate at a time. Eye-opening eateries are popping up all over the country with different missions and challenges, cooking up real food for the soul.
It’s not all plain-sailing for these restaurants. Take Create Leeds; just months after winning The Observer Food Monthly’s Best Ethical Restaurant award, as well as being laden with praise from the likes of Jamie Oliver and David Cameron, this northern ethical restaurant sadly found that ‘selling food was not enough’.
We think these restaurants deserve a shout out, so take a little time, peruse this list, and let us know your thoughts.
Skipchen – Bristol
There’s a reclamation revolution underway in the world of food. Understandable when you hear that we skip some 15m tonnes of food every year. Once categorised as the pastime of freegans and hippies, sourcing and serving up food surplus is fast becoming trendy. Take Skipchen, newly opened in Bristol’s Stokes Croft, looking all kooky and ramshackle from the outside but cooking up some pretty awesome food inside – food the chefs have found in skips. While the idea of ‘skip food’ has most of us wrinkling our noses (and I certainly wouldn’t relish nights spent trawling supermarket bins) manager Sam Joseph has been living off the stuff for the past three years, and really does have it down to a fine art. He is hygiene conscious and creative.
It was clear from the busy Thursday lunchtime we popped along, that the place is buzzing. Diners were happily tucking into the daily specials, people popped by for ingredients and kitchen staples, and there was an endless stream crates of food arriving. Skipchen also receives donations from farmers, businesses and families, and can stock up on surplus chickens from the local Nando’s. Already you can see that food is in no short supply.
Skipchen are working to change our perception of food waste and utilise the abundance of food that is accessible. A noble cause, I hear you say, but what are we eating? How about banana, coconut and potato curry with chapatti, kiln-roasted salmon with watercress and white wine sauce and apricot crumble with vanilla custard? Skipchen have even been known to feature dressed lobster. Doesn’t sound like second-hand food to me. Diners pay what they feel in the traditional fashion or by offering their skills or lending a hand with the washing up, and the all-round inclusive atmosphere makes this venture perfect Stokes Croft material.
Skipchen has just opened in Stokes Croft in Bristol. No need to book, just pop in and say hi.
Silo – Brighton
Granted, it’s not the most appealing name, but as a restaurant that recycles all their waste, brews their own beer, and even mills their own flour for bread, we can forgive them. Silo is bringing real ethical values right on trend. You only have to glimpse the interior: it oozes North-Laine style and the menu is not to be sniffed at. Take whole wheat salt beef bagel for example; even the name rolls sumptuously off the tongue. Or start with fried artichokes with blue cheese, before indulging in poached partridge with sprouted lentils, smoked sweet potato and fermented ramson, and tidy it up nicely with chocolate nib cake. It caught our attention for sure.
As part of the journey to achieve zero waste everything is produced on site from its wholest form, they even use re-usable delivery vessels when trading with local farmers so absolutely nothing ends up in the bin. At worst waste food is put to compost, which only goes to grow more food. It’s a beautiful cycle. Coffees are served in jam jars, plates are made from recycled plastic bags (you have to see them) and lights are powered by solar energy. No receipt? That’s emailed to you madam, to save paper (and stop them clogging up your handbag).
Visit it at 39 Upper Gardner Street in Brighton. It’s down some little lanes, but only a five-minute trot from the station, and you absolutely can’t miss the sign.
Social Bite – Edinburgh & Glasgow
Where will you find a Michelin-starred chef brushing shoulders with the homeless? Far from a one-off charity event, we’re talking about a sandwich shop with a difference that is smashing the competition from big-name branches like Pret A Manger, Subway and Baguette Express.
Social Bite does what it says on the tin. It supports its local community by providing jobs and support for the homeless as well as financial donations to Shelter Scotland by selling tasty bites. It’s a completely not-for-profit organisation that is going from strength to strength. Two shops in Glasgow and a further two in Edinburgh are able to fund important work at an eye care hospital in Bangladesh and hand over the money for social enterprise loan scheme, The Micro Loan Foundation in Malawi – all through the power of sandwiches.
With a menu crafted by Mike Mathieson, a chef usually found inhabiting in the kitchens of La Côte Saint Jacques, the food at Social Bite is second to none. There is even the option to purchase ‘suspended coffees’, whereby you buy a meal and a coffee in advance for a homeless resident of the city. Homelessness is high on Social Bite’s priority list. Around 25 per cent of their staff used to be on the streets, so awareness of the problem is ingrained into the business. The good this café does is apparent from the minute you walk in, from the cheery welcome to the mouth-watering food.
In Edinburgh you’ll find two branches; one on Rose Street and one at Shandwick Place. In Glasgow you’ll find one on St Vincent Street and one of Bothwell Street.
The Clink Restaurant – Brixton & Cardiff
What do you need before you head out for a posh meal? Your finest frock, best shoes and…a security check? Well, you’ll need it if you’re heading to The Clink Restaurant: a fine dining restaurant located within the walls of a prison, serving dishes crafted by inmates and where you’ll be waited on by criminals.
The Clink Restaurant is an expanding restaurant chain that offers prison inmates the chance to gain experience within the hospitality trade and provide them with the skills for change. We all know that the growing number of inmates in UK jails is not having the desired effect on crime levels; in fact over half of inmates will reoffend once released. Opportunities to be reintegrated into society have the biggest impact and Clink is a charity which helps and mentors offenders while behind bars as well as out in society.
The Clink’s eateries (and there are three of them) are really something special. It certainly doesn’t feel like you’re in a prison and diners have been earmarking the restaurants for special occasions. Tea smoked duck and watercress salad with compressed pear and herb oil doesn’t sound like prison food to me. They’ve got everyone covered too, with plenty of options for coeliacs and vegetarians.
Visit it HMP High Down, HMP Brixton (by request only) and HMP Cardiff. These are not your usual restaurants, so do see the website for further information.
Cabbages and Condoms – Cheltenham
‘Our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy’ is definitely a slogan that is guaranteed to catch your attention. Such is the genius behind Cabbages and Condoms, a restaurant talked about the world over and with its second UK branch due to fling open its doors in Cheltenham early this December.
It’s a catchy name and (just in case you’re not up to speed with the buzz) it perhaps shouldn’t be top on your list of places to take your mum and dad. This is a different social business to the ones we’ve explored so far and I can guarantee you’ll have never been anywhere quite like it. Along with a menu of authentic (and pretty highly commended) Thai cuisine, diners will find after-dinner condoms instead of mints, free sexual health advice and a shop sporting a range of relevant merchandise.
Sound strange? It’s noted as one of the most unique restaurants in Bangkok, and it will certainly be able to claim the same fame in Cheltenham. But this restaurant is no gimmick. The causes it supports are real and plenty. The idea for the restaurant came from a need for greater awareness of birth control and sexual health in Thailand. It has strong connections with the Population and Rural Development Association (PDA) in Thailand, who support better understanding and acceptance of family planning and all funds go towards this non-governmental organisation.
If the Oxford branch is Bicester is anything to go by, Cabbages and Condoms’ UK offering is really quite stylish and you’ll find plenty of punters waxing lyrical over the food. Who knows, Cheltenham Cabbages and Condoms might be just the Christmas party venue you’re looking for.
Visit it Just off the high street in Cheltenham, on St James’ Street, the newest branch of Cabbages and Condoms is set to open its doors on 5th December this year. Can’t wait that long? Head to Bicester in Oxford, home to the only other UK branch of Cabbages and Condoms.