In Soho, one of the first four branches (two in London, two in NYC) of a new-concept ‘low-carbon’ chain; as chain-style veggie outlets go, it’s not a bad place, but a bit more jollity might not go amiss.
t’s rather difficult to know quite what to make of “the planet’s first low-carbon restaurant”. One of the first things we noticed was that it sells bottled water. UK-sourced, perhaps, but still plastic-bottled and road-freighted. Thames Water – which does the job with pipes, gravity and, yes, the occasional pump – does it much more efficiently.
And then you get to study the menu, which makes you realise – let’s assume their boffins have got the calculations right – that even veggie food, which is the only type they do here, is far from blameless. Otarian may advertise that its veggie Tex Mex burger ‘saves’ 0.83kg of CO2 compared to its meaty equivalent… but they are frank enough to admit that, even so, their veggie substitute has a footprint of 1.72kg (equivalent to a 10-mile journey in a high-efficiency car). Even the path of virtue, it seems, is not entirely free of ethical bumps.
But these concepts are too large and vexed for the brains of restaurant critics to grapple with. Let’s leave them to one side, and ask how this place stacks up as a restaurant. Not bad, really. You don’t need to be a veggie, or an eco-maniac, to concede that no-meat lunches (in particular) have quite a lot going for them, and the meal we had here in Soho really wasn’t bad at all.
The field mushroom burger was tasty enough, as was the roasted vegetable couscous (0.79kg CO2!). Either would have made a satisfactory light snack, though you’d probably have needed both to feel at all full. Strictly in the line of duty, we also had an apple crumble – the fruit was a bit of a sweet gloop, but the crumble wasn’t bad.
The premises are pleasant enough, in a slightly soulless way, and the service is fine, and lighting-quick. We can’t help thinking, though, that they’ve missed a big trick. Establishments like this so easily get engulfed by an offputting odour of sanctity: it would have helped to diffuse this by making a modest range of booze available.
Why not scrub the (pointless) bottled water, and substitute some bottles (or, more efficiently, barrels) of wine and beer from, say, Hampshire or Kent? If you’re going to ship bottles in anyway, you could – surely – import the sort that bring a ray of sunshine with them.