This is a guest blog by our friends at the Sustainable Restaurant Association, who launch a new campaign in August to get restaurants serving more veg and better meat.
Mushroom risotto, butternut squash tart and pasta with tomato sauce. Three dishes stuffed away in the corner of the menu miles away from the long, eye-catching list of meaty delights, all under the unprepossessing ‘Veggie’ label. That’s as far as many restaurants go when it comes to promoting plant-based dishes. Not only is it not good enough, given the environmental and health imperatives, but their outdated adherence to a solidly meat based menu means their missing out on the biggest food trend since sliced bread.
With nearly half of us identifying as flexitarian and a third adamant that we should all be eating a little less meat, why aren’t more menus full of fabulous dishes in which vegetables have the starring role?
Throughout August the Sustainable Restaurant Association is urging restaurants to Serve More Veg and Better Meat. This is not a vegetarian charter. Far from it. But it most certainly is a vote for veg. We reckon there’s so much more chefs can be doing to create luscious legume dishes.
To get their creative juices flowing we invited 20 or so of the most forward thinking chefs to a dinner at Fifteen recently. We wanted these influencers of taste and arbiters of food fashion to share their vegetable inspiration and passion for new ways of delighting their customers.
Raymond Blanc, SRA President and Chef Patron of Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, said many chefs wouldn’t dream of using intensively reared chicken but needed to think harder about the provenance of their fresh produce.
Customers at River Cottage might have noticed the odd wonky asparagus spear this spring, said Gelf Anderson, but, while the flavour was still amazing no one complained about the shape.
When Grain Store opened in 2013, Bruno Loubet was seen as a pioneer, serving a selection of plates that were more three veg and wee bit of meat than meat and two veg. Now, Bruno questions whether restaurants need any meat starters on their menu.
Less radical perhaps, but more innovatively, Josh Eggleton urged other chefs to follow something he’s done at The Pony & Trap and offer a meat or fish addition to a vegetable-based dish – reversing an out-dated trend that sees us continue to choose a protein packed main dish with the option of adding vegetable sides.
Alexis Gauthier whose eponymous Soho restaurant’s menu is now 75% vegetarian, believes there is still some way to go to persuade diners that the greater creativity and work that goes into making a great vegetable based dish merits a price tag as high as for a meat-based one.
These are just some of the ideas buzzing around the kitchens of some of the UK’s best known and loved restaurants. What the SRA is hoping to achieve through its More Veg and Better Meat campaign is the seeding of these ideas across menus all over the country, giving diners the panoply of plant-based choices they crave.