Acorn may be eco friendly but what happened to manners?
PUBLISHED: 12:38 10 January 2008 | UPDATED: 14:40 07 September 2010
Organic, carbon and guilt-free restaurant is proof that a clear conscience doesn t come cheap Happy New Year. I ve started 2008 as I mean to go on. The Doomsday scenario in Al Gore s (oh so) Inconvenient Truth has finally sunk in, and I m going to be s
Organic, carbon and guilt-free restaurant is proof that a clear
conscience doesn't come cheap
Happy New Year. I've started 2008 as I mean to go on. The Doomsday scenario in Al Gore's (oh so) Inconvenient Truth has finally sunk in, and I'm going to be so darned green in 2008 you'd lose me in the park. I'll be recycling, bicycling, turning the lights off, the heating down and eating local and organic. That's the plan. To get me off on the right food, I paid a visit to the most ecological restaurant in the village.
Acorn House, which opened late in 2006, continues to be a raving success. Critics couldn't praise it highly enough. Local boy Giles Coren came over all Greenham Common about it, calling it the "most important restaurant to open in London for the past 200 years." Stirring stuff from a man militant enough about this cause to claim he'd prefer to share his meal with a child murderer than a bottled water drinker.
It's not just about healthy, organic food. The folk at the House are greener than Kermit. The restaurant itself is built from recycled materials, they compost or recycle 100 per cent of their waste, use bio-diesel and green electricity, buy Fairtrade and never use airfreight. As if that wasn't enough, they provide training for residents, placements for schoolchildren and attempt to promote healthy eating schemes in local schools. If the restaurant were a person, it would be a fully paid up socks'n sandal wearer and most likely knit its own hemp underwear.
I arranged to meet a new, Islington-based foodie friend, Alma, there in the week before Christmas. The restaurant is a shiny, welcome beacon in the heart of insalubrious King's Cross. Its grubby looking host building - the ground floor of the Terence Higgins Trust's HQ - is a sharp contrast to the slick modern dining room. As they're open throughout the day (8am for breakfast, serving lunch until 3pm and then dinner from 6.30pm) the décor needs to be flexible. It's all cream walls, dark wood, modern furniture with an open kitchen at one end.
Stepping in from the extreme cold, I was directed to the table closest to the door. At 6.30pm, with the dining room virtually empty, I expressed concern that we might feel the chill. The sleekly groomed front-of-house bird said it would be fine. It wasn't. As successive office parties arrived and left the door open we were treated to a blast of arctic Gray's Inn air.
Having booked last minute, we'd been warned our table would be ours for only two hours. Two unsmiling front-of-house girls reminded us of this more than once. Fair enough, but try to be a bit pleasant about it.
You definitely pay for your principles. Starters range from £6.50 to £10.50 and main courses from £19 to £24 for a line-caught Sea Bass fillet. Previous reviewers had been impressed by the reasonably priced food, so perhaps (chef) Arthur Potts-Dawson and (restaurant manager) Jamie Grainger-Smith are finding it expensive saving the planet.
I was slightly embarrassed at having brought Alma to a £40 a head venue, but she seemed happy enough, drooling over the menu. Seven starters, six mains and three pasta/risotto options (printed on recycled card) gave her plenty to drool over. Our order was taken by Grainger-Smith himself - far more amenable and eager to please than his hostesses.
Whilst we waited we watched huge tables of Christmas party-goers arrive, ditch their coats and don paper hats. A basket of bread (£2 extra) was fresh and served with good unsalted butter.
Having got our order in ahead of the revellers, our starters arrived fairly quickly. Alma's Prosciutto (which I assume had travelled via the shiny, brandspanking Eurostar terminal from San Daniele) arrived impressively piled high on top of sweet, roasted butternut flavoured with balsamic and scattered with nuts and mixed seeds. She pronounced it "scrumptious". My excellent Goat's cheese salad was also laden with seeds, pistachios, plump slices of medjool dates and shavings of fresh pear.
It was lucky Alma had plenty to say, as the next course took far too long to get to us. 2008's new, calm, serene and ultimately forgiving me, gives them the benefit of the doubt because the kitchen was being sorely tested by huge tables. Nonetheless, with a two-hour time limit on our table, we were racing against the clock and there was no apology for our wait.
In the interests of economy we'd both chosen a pasta dish. Alma went for Farfalle of porcini, tomato, butter and parmesan. So generous were the porcini, it resembled a Bolognese sauce. It was another huge portion, which she was unable to finish. Being American, she unashamedly asked for a doggy-bag which a waitress happily boxed up in an (ecosensitive) takeaway container.
My Ravioli - of cavolo nero and mascarpone with fried sage was dismal. Six or seven ravioli sat in a yellow, soupy sauce, edible only with a spoon - or straw. They neglected to bring either, so the next five minutes were spent trying to attract a waitress to bring one. The pasta itself was fine, the filling acceptable, but the deep fried sage more penance than foodstuff. It was unpleasantly bitter and difficult to chew. Disappointing.
By the time we'd eaten our pasta we were on final countdown. One of the misery (front-of-house) twins came to sound the death knell and a crowd of at least ten new arrivals were hovering.
No time for dessert. I was permitted peppermint tea but it was too hot to drink before our time was up. The first bill we received included a bottle of wine we hadn't ordered. The next version was just short of £70 for two courses, bread and two glasses of wine.
As I said, doing the right thing isn't always cheap. But if you want to do your bit, perhaps you might want to pop (on foot) down there for breakfast or lunch.
Editor's Note: Our photographer was also given fairly short shrift during her visit to Acorn this week. Eco? Perhaps. Friendly? Not very.
Acorn House, 69 Swinton Street, King's Cross WC1X 9NT.
Telephone: 020-7812 1892
Open: 8am to 11am, 12pm to 3pm for lunch and 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner.
Cost:£69.19, including service for two courses and two glasses of wine.
For one-to-one coaching or cooking parties with a qualified chef, email firstname.lastname@example.org