More and more restaurants are investigating the benefits of in-house production, to bring the freshest and most sustainable ingredients to their customers. Francesca Baker checks out a few pioneering London restaurants that go the extra mile.
Once, shopping locally, making your own, recycling leftovers and eating seasonally was the only option – for caterers and consumers alike. Now, however, most restaurants purchase their goods from the same few wholesalers. Some dabble in ‘home made’, but this is often limited to selling local jam, or the sourcing of their organic apples. Producing things that are usually bought in, be they cured meats, coffee or bread, requires commitment. London cafés and restaurants that take this approach and craft ingredients for their menus are seeing dividends for the customer, the cook and the experience.
The focus at Craft London is on ‘quality in production.’ With an onsite kitchen garden, pizza oven, butchery room, coffee roaster, smoke house, orchard and hives, the team creates a huge number of their products, including smoked fish, honey, cured meat, pickles, butter and more. They believe there are multiple benefits. “This way you have more control over your product, how it looks and tastes and what effect it’s having on the environment to get it to your plate,” says Craft’s Adam Wyatt Jones. Customers are also invited to play an active role. At the weekly Test Kitchen they are invited to give their thoughts on dishes in development stages. There’s such a focus on getting the right taste, for their salami for example, that they “even ask the farmer to feed the animals specific things to alter the taste.”
"Our guests trust us to provide them with a tasty, honest and healthy dining experience"
Desire to innovate is what inspired Miles Kirby, the co-founder and chef proprietor of Caravan restaurants. “Our guests trust us to provide them with a tasty, honest and healthy dining experience,” he says. Caravan has always made its own bread, and now produces charcuterie, kombucha, cider, sodas and tonics. Fresh cheese is next on the list. A curious mind-set and desire to innovate is crucial. Miles admits that whilst it’s partly to “control the quality of everything we serve…in some instances…it’s to quench a thirst for the knowledge of how to do something.”
As well as better for the environment, it’s often healthier. Additives are avoided, and food much fresher. “People these days are more conscious than ever about what they put in their bodies,” Miles says.
This awareness of what goes in the body is key for Danielle and Catherine at Printworks Kitchen in Clerkenwell. Having started out with a focus on products suitable for allergy sufferers and avoiding the synthetic ingredients in many ‘free from’ goods, they’ve become addicted to starting from scratch.
For them, as well as “not having to look at the back of a packet,” it’s about sustainability and reducing waste. Sensible planning and a creative eye means that surplus can go into the next meal. Rather than buying gluten free carrot cake from their supplier, they use leftover gratings; meanwhile, sweet potato peelings become crisps and broccoli stems are frozen for winter soup.
Back over at Craft, left over sourdough becomes ice-cream and garum (an ancient type of fish sauce) is made from fermented fish heads and guts. Similarly, Caravan sees pickling and preserving is “an opportunity to make the most of abundant times of the year.”
But it’s also about enjoyment. The Printworks team know that their products taste far better than those “shipped in by suppliers.’’
As Adam at Craft put it: “it’s lovely to be able to tell the story of how a dish has been created and where all the ingredients come from.”
Read about other great restaurants with our Good Food reviews