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Acorn House, 69 Swinton Street, London WC1

Louise Elgin minds her carbon footprint...

If you love eating out but have a conscience about the effects on our declining planet and the environment then this could be the restaurant for you to try. Acorn House, situated in deepest polluted Kings Cross, seems an unlikely setting for an eco-friendly restaurant. It has been set up as a benevolent venture by a host of charities including The Terrance Higgins Trust and lesser known Shoreditch Trust, which is committed to improving a host of issues in the local area, and smacks of the Fifteen Restaurant project so successfully created by Jamie Oliver. Indeed, Head Chef Arthur Potts Dawson was heavily involved there, not only as the Head Chef but in many other aspects of its creation.

Each year at Acorn House, up to ten local young chefs will be given the opportunity to learn all aspects of how to run a kitchen that is environmentally aware. Undeniably, all aspects of the venture have the environment at the top of the agenda, from the building’s materials, to ensuring all produce served in the restaurant comes from ethically sustainable sources - mostly from farms which practice positive animal husbandry as well as other small independent suppliers for its fruit and vegetables. It pledges to buy fair trade wherever possible whilst purified tap water is available free of charge, thus minimising glass and plastic waste. Being a community venture, Acorn House is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with reasonably priced take-aways on offer for office workers and local residents with scruples. The feel of the rectangular restaurant is modern and clean, with wooden tables and matching benches and modern lighting. The tables are small and its all a little cramped, but the service is friendly and the mood music is just the right volume so you can still chat and not be overheard.

The menu, which changes monthly to reflect the changing seasons is served as either a la carte or a five course tasting menu. We opted for the latter which offers a choices of dishes throughout most of the courses and at £38 per head includes a very refreshing rhubarb Bellini, or at £68 a head comes with an accompanying selection of wines by the glass.

We began with a bowl of magenta velvety rich beetroot, cardamom and sour cream soup, which had a welcome accompanying kick of peppery spice, and a glass of English wine, Bacchus from Kent which was rich and flavoursome, with a heady bouquet and a taste of honey and greengages. Our second course was a choice of either a winter salad of pheasant, pomegranates and dandelion which was a good combination of contrasting flavours or a yellow beetroot and waxy potato salad with a green olive and chilli dressing, which we thought was a bit on the bland side; with this we drank a surprisingly fruity and light French chardonnay. To follow we had a stilton and walnut risotto which was to die for, with a good bite and a rich cheese flavour. It was perfectly cooked comfort food, ideal for the dark winter evening outside. With this we drank an excellently paired South African Chenin Blanc which held it own well with the strong flavours on the palate. By now we were feeling fairly full but ploughed on with our main course choices. 

My guest had roasted shoulder of mutton with rosemary and quince; she said it was very tender and enjoyable although it could have been seasoned a little more. To accompany this she had a glass of Argentine Mendoza merlot which smelt amazingly of burnt fudge and had strong peppery overtones. My char grilled fish came with a wonderful horseradish and cardamom sauce and was suitably fresh and light after all I had already consumed. I had an accompanying glass of organic Chilean chardonnay with a rich sherry taste. By now we were struggling to find room for any more, so decided to split the peppered flourless chocolate cake & ginger ice cream. It was very light, with crystallised ginger beneath the chocolaty sponge, while the ice cream was faultless too. A perfect pudding to finish our meal.

Acorn House is not your typical London restaurant, it has an air of an apprentice about it which is part of its charm (one clever twist was that the regulatory match boxes by the exit turned out to be packets of seeds to be taken home to be planted). I think others will have to follow in its mould, as we all wake up to the probability that our planet is dying and it is no longer acceptable for the food on our plate to have flown thousands of miles round the world just to satisfy our palates.

A meal for two with wine and water is around £40 a head.

Louise Elgin  March 2007

Acorn House 69 Swinton Street London WC1 Tel: 020 7812 1842

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