Acorn House Restaurant review: eco-friendly - but worth it?Friday, July 06, 2007
Acorn House Restaurant is a restaurant which bills itself as eco-friendly, i.e. it tries to follow ecologically sound principles. Their self-description: "Acorn House is an exciting new restaurant venture offering exceptional quality food with a fresh, seasonally evolving menu. Every aspect from design through to delivery aims to be environmentally conscious and sustainable" - "With fresh seasonal menus, a dedication to healthy eating, environmental responsibility and a premium, glamorous appeal".
It offers training to 10 young adults each year in the eco friendly restaurant trade too, having been set up as a training restaurant for the local community by The Shoreditch Trust, Terrence Higgins Trust and Bliss Restaurant Consultancy: "Respect for all the elements involved and awareness of the resources used in the provision of food is central to our training ethos."
Seasonal organic food, healthy home-grown produce with a smaller carbon footprint and the like, at a reasonable price, from a restaurant which aims to be ecologically conscious and community-focussed? Sounds a very good idea, and they've had excellent reviews from food critics e.g. at the Times. So, I thought I'd try it out and do my bit to save Planet Earth, and went there for dinner on a Friday night.
FoodThe food was fine, decent quality organic meat etc, but - but - the portions were far too big. It would be a lot more eco (and cheaper for all concerned) to serve smaller portions, and I wouldn't have felt quite so stuffed. Is it partly because my family have succeeded in conditioning me into being permanently guilt-tripped about wasting food? ("If it's on my plate then I have to eat it all or else it'll be thrown away and think of all those people who had to eat sawdust and insects during the war and like it!"). In a word, nope. The portions were just plain too big. My companion, who is somewhat larger than me (well most people are), and can certainly eat a lot more, thought so too.
The latte gave me the runs, but that could have just been my reaction to the purity of the milk. Or something.
Presentation and ambienceThe presentation was dire. The food looked rather as though it had just been flung on the plate. Which was a shame, as the flavours were actually pretty good.
The one long room was large and airy with a modern minimalist feel, and the location was quite convenient, just five minutes' walk from King's Cross tube / train station. But the table was tiny. There was barely enough room for the plates never mind glasses. To add to the cramped ambience, the spacing between tables was ridiculously tight. It wasn't that full when I went, they could afford to space things out more, and surely they could afford bigger tables.
You were virtually rubbing elbows with the people on the next table, and if you have a penchant for eavesdropping on total strangers' conversations, well this is certainly the restaurant for you. I did learn from that circumstance that the restaurant is frequented by 20-something meejah types. Whether that's a plus or a minus is up to you.
At the end they gave you books with little seeds (which otherwise looked like those books of matches) you can plant - a very nice touch.
PricingThe price was reasonable. It wasn't cheap but then you'd expect to pay a little more to pander to your conscience (and, to be less facetious about it, organic food is of course going to cost more). It wasn't unaffordably expensive though.
ServiceAs for the service, the wait staff and maitre d' were polite and friendly enough if you spoke to them, but not all were equally knowledgeable about the origins of the food and what went into particular dishes etc, which given the nature of the restaurant and its key selling point was unfortunate. Many diners who make the effort to go to Acorn House would be interested to know. The staff should have been trained to have the answers, or at least to go and ask if they didn't.
Also, they mostly addressed my companion, not me, e.g. asking what she thought of the meal at the end, but not me. Hellooo? I was eating there too, I am a live person (well, some may question that at times, but I was definitely moving my mouth, I think they might have noticed). There wasn't even the "excuse" of habitually addressing just "the man", as I went with a female friend.
VerdictThe idea of an environmentally sustainable restaurant is very laudable (the Times called it "the most important restaurant to open in London in the past 200 years" for that reason). Given the increasing concerns about global warming and other environmental issues, I'd love to see more restaurants based on the same principles, and I'd eagerly try them out too.
Don't get me wrong, the food tasted very good. But I'm afraid there are limits to how much I can put up with just to be more ecologically sound: I go to a restaurant for a good night out, not just the food. If I simply wanted a decent organic meal, I could stay at home and make it myself. Without wishing to sound arrogant, my home-cooked dinners are much better than mediocre or average restaurants', and much cheaper than the top ones'. I mostly cook rather than eat out or have takeout, and believe it or not actually I'm usually not a danger in the kitchen. I buy organic and seasonal food as much as I can, and food labelling these days is much better than it was, so I can tell where my food came from and pick and choose on that basis. I don't need to go to an "environmentally aware restaurant" to be eco, as my meals are already reasonably friendly to the environment.
Still, I'll probably give Acorn House Restaurant just once more chance sometime to see if they've improved.