Sustainable living, London 2019 – part 2, sustainable restaurants

In the second part of the Sustainable Living series of posts, London’s most sustainable restaurants are explored. More specifically the question what makes a restaurant sustainable is at the heart of this blog post. I’ll focus here on the way ingredients are sourced, waste management and social impact. With the negative environmental impact of animal agriculture and fishing, going vegan is probably one of the best ways for  a restaurant to become greener. However, no one criterion is sufficient on its own, nor are they all required. The commitment to do better – buying local, organic ingredients, getting involved with the local community reducing energy consumption and many other actions – is what makes these restaurants sustainable. A list of the restaurants can be found here

Let’s start with the difficult issue of can non-vegan restaurants be sustainable. The issue here is both environmental and ethical. Animal agriculture is responsible for almost 15% of global carbon emission, causes deforestation and biodiversity loss. If that’s not enough, there’s the ethical argument as well, which is that killing animals is immoral (for ideological or religious reasons). Both issues sparked some heated yet nuanced debates (like this one). I won’t get into the ethical question here but will just say about the environmental one that there are claims that animal agriculture can be done in a way that significantly reduces its negative environmental impact and even has some positive effects on the soil. More broadly, I view sustainability as a complex transition which doesn’t necessarily have to be, and isn’t, uniform. Namely different people, businesses and even countries do sustainability in different ways. Our focus is on making progress towards a more environmentally friendly way of doing things. Reducing animal product consumption is one way to move forwards, but it’s not the only one. Therefore, in this case, veganism was not taken as a necessary factor for a restaurant to be considered sustainable. However, vegan restaurants around the city will receive their own post and will be added to the directory.

Petersham Nurseries

And it’s not just me. The most sustainable restaurant in the world, according to the 50 Best Restaurants in the World Academy and The Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), Azurmendi (three Michelin-starred restaurant in the Basque Country in Spain) is in fact not vegan. However, the restaurant got a 93% score from the SRA, making it the most sustainable restaurant for 2018. The score is based on a detailed questionnaire addressing a variety of topics which are divided into three “pillars” – how ingredients are sourced; the restaurant’s social impact and relationships with stakeholders; and the restaurant’s environmental impact. Among the things that Azurmendi is getting right are its locally grown ingredients, its collaboration with the local government on a waste management project and having its own solar panels and heatpumps. 

Local restaurants’ commitment to sustainability seems to be growing, both in the number of restaurants subscribing to a greener agenda and in how far they are pushing their individual version of that agenda. A relatively large number of restaurants are sourcing their products locally and using free range and organic ingredients where possible. These restaurants often serve seasonal menus and sustainable fish (in some cases line-caught). While they are mostly not vegan, vegetables do get to star in some of the dishes. Among these are: Riverford at the Duke of Cambridge, which has been hailed as the city’s first organic gastropub; The Clerkenwell Kitchen; Petersham Nurseries; Bumpkin and Hawksmoor.  



Among the restaurants in the category of locally/sustainably sourced ingredients, Tiny Leaf and Spring should be mentioned for their use of organic surplus food to create their dishes and Feng Sushi which serves only Marine Stewardship Council approved fish. Farmacy emphasises the health aspect of its organic and offers a no refined-sugar, additives or chemicals menu.   

Previously mentioned Tiny Leaf is one of a very small group of zero-waste restaurants along with Cub, the first zero-waste restaurant in the city and a handful of other restaurants trying to reduce their food-waste. Cub sources some ingredients from Indie Ecology, who are using the restaurant’s food waste as compost for their crops. In the Duke of Cambridge food waste is fed to the anaerobic digestor to generate energy. Awareness to waste management plays a part in the interior design of some of these venues. Cub and the Duke of Cambridge both use second-hand, upcycled or repurposed furniture. 

Some restaurants are concerned with their social impact, Grain Store, Hawsmoor, Petersham Nurseries and the Modern Pantry are all supporting a variety of charities. Local initiatives and campaigns also get support from some of these venues. One interesting example is Wahaca’s involvement with The Pig Idea campaign. 

Tiny Leaf

There could be a lot more done, in verifying the ethical sourcing of ingredients, reducing waste and emissions, providing information about working conditions of restaurant staff etc. However, while there is still a long way to go it seems that these restaurants are moving in the right direction. You can see a list of restaurants here


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