Local and organic are the buzzwords, but they don't always mix
BY VICTORIA PREVER Local and organic are the latest foodie buzzwords – but don t always mix well. Good intentions can be lost in an ethical minefield. Organic ingredients may clock up many air miles and the eco-aware restaurateur is left weighing up the evils of air freight
Local and organic are the latest foodie buzzwords - but don't always mix well. Good intentions can be lost in an ethical minefield.
Organic ingredients may clock up many air miles and the eco-aware restaurateur is left weighing up the evils of air freight over the lower environmental impact of organic farming.
Should they keep an eye on their carbon footprint and support local farmers or concentrate on placing the purest foodstuffs on our plates?
It was all so much easier, if less interesting, before science and our consciousness kicked in - when food was grown and sold at the end of the road.
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Two restaurants have recently been wrestling with this conundrum. The Natural Kitchen and Core are both riding the latest foodie trend.
The Natural Kitchen in Marylebone High Street opened just over a year ago and has recently been taken over by Grover Montrose, a small catering company which also owns and operates restaurants.
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Their plan is to make it more kitchen and less market. There's a takeaway area on the ground floor and small cafe on the first floor.
A wine cellar is planned for the basement and a child-friendly cafe.
The current cafe's repertoire has been limited by a Westminster planning ban on cooking on-site.
The new owners navigate this by preparing food off-site and reheating or serving it at room temperature.
A breakfast menu is replaced at 11.30am by a lunch of quiches, sandwiches, salads and sharing platters. Much of the food served here can be bought downstairs to take away. Some is local, some organic. If there's a choice, local wins.
I visited for breakfast. The cafe is utilitarian and bright with plenty of natural light. White walls are broken up with large photos of attractive vegetables and, presumably, deliriously happy and pristine cows and geese - blissfully unaware they're to end up on a plate.
Tables are twos and long trestle type affairs. Chairs are the sort you might have sat on at school - if you're as old as me. The tables will apparently be changed over the coming months.
The breakfast menu mixes healthy and wholesome with pleasurable excess. It includes porridge and muesli, eggs - boiled, scrambled, Benedict - ham and cheese-filled croissants and pastries. Most exciting to me was the DIY toast.
For only £2.65, you can visit the industrial Dualit toaster, and prepare your own choice of interesting breads with one of a plethora of spreads and jams (get this) as many times as you want. I admit to more than one visit. All you can eat toast? Has to be a winner.
The granola was a sundae glass layered with natural yoghurt, fresh fruit and a cinnamon granola. The cereal came, disappointingly, from a box sold on the racks downstairs. But a home-made version is apparently on its way. I understand the aim is to serve food entirely cooked by them - if not actually in-house.
With a cup of Roibos tea, my feast was less than £10. More than your average breakfast - but a real treat and, with the unlimited toast, a bargain.
Even further west, on the banks of the Grand Union canal, newcomer Core promises "fresh, local and organic".
The huge space has an industrial vibe - building entrails displayed in the roof space, a patchwork of different coloured wooden boards on the floor and floor-to-ceiling glass on three sides.
Views are of smart new high-rise buildings, let down by the less attractive building site around the drained canal. The area will no doubt soon improve.
Tables are also heavy wood - lots of long communal tables and some smaller ones. On sunny days, you can sit outside.
Core's owners, novice restaurateurs Norbert Heinl and Samantha Heighway, aim to provide convenient nutritious food.
The message over the counter was "see it, choose it, taste it". And that's exactly what you do - place your order after seeing examples of many dishes displayed in the refrigerated counter.
Choose what you want from here or the menu and it will be cooked to order and brought to you. It's an odd concept - uncommon here and not one of which I'm ordinarily a fan. But it worked. The food on display looked reasonably fresh and appetising and instantly sold me my choice - the Core gourmet burger.
On the local or organic conundrum, they've gone for local over organic - sourcing organic meat, fish, dairy and bread from local suppliers such as Sheepdrove Farm in Berkshire but largely sticking with seasonal fruit and vegetables.
My burger was well cooked and topped with cheese, bacon and tomato as well as some fresh salad leaves. Some random diced salad was scattered over the plate.
The bun was a little dry, but adequate. A healthy freshly squeezed orange juice was also good. My charming Gallic waiter was friendly and helpful.
They also serve salads, healthy stews and wraps as well as a full breakfast menu and gooey cakes.
It's maybe not a destination spot but, if you're in the area, then it's head and shoulders above anything else.
If you care about the planet and what you put in your stomach, both these independents are well worth a visit.
The Natural Kitchen Cafe
77 Marylebone High Street, Marylebone
Food: four star rating
Service: four star rating
Mon-Fri 8am-8pm, Sat 9am-7pm, Sun noon-6pm
Approx £10 for very large breakfast
Unit 12, West End Quay, Paddington
Food: three star rating
Service: four star rating
Approx £12 for one course with drinks
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