Saturday, February 24, 2007

Food & Freezers

Time for an update on my direct action: life without my freezer. If you have been following this particular self-imposed restriction, you will know that (with the assistance of some hungry mates) it was finally emptied in time for the beginning of the New Year.

Amongst other reasons, I was curious to see whether or not it would make much impact on my eating habits. Interestingly, 7 weeks on, it has made surprisingly little difference. Yes, I initially found myself being more careful as to what I bought as I no longer had that fall-back position of chucking it in the freezer if it looked like those lamb chops would not get to the grill over the next few days. But it was a minor adjustment, and life without a freezer soon settled in as the norm. The thing is, life without it has had little adverse impact on my day-to-day mastications. The fact that I do not miss it supports my theory that we seem capable of adopting patterns of behaviour with remarkable ease - and before we know it, they become the accepted norm. Take supermarkets. Now, shopping in them really cannot be explained away as normal - and yet, 42 million people use them at least once a week (that's over 85% of the population).

Such is my aversion, I have not stepped near the sterile chiller cabinets of a Freshco or the likes for, ooh, years. But I am lucky. For one, I have no kids (my child-bearing friends tell me that this reason alone justifies their defence of duress). Living as I do in Bloomsbury, central London, surrounded on three sides by Kings Cross, Clerkenwell and Islington, my forage does not take me far to secure seasonal/locally sourced/organic/low carbon emission sustenance. I can even bankroll the Zapatista rebellion by buying their coffee. There is a smattering of well-stocked health food-stores, some wonderful deli's, my local Sunday Farmers' Market, and if the lure of the all-in-one proves too much, Planet Organic is close by.

On a Friday and Saturday, I can toodle over to Exmouth Market, pick up a bag of mushrooms hand-picked in Kent that morning, um and ahh over which of the Neal's Yard cheeses is at its' ripest, take a refill of the best organic museli ever tasted from Unpackaged (what a spanking idea this is - you pay less if you return with the same packet) as well as topping up on my dwindling supply of Ecover washing-up liquid.

Even better are the local eateries. Oliver Rowe's hunt for food reared within the boundary of the M25 ends up on a plate at Konstam at the bottom of the hill, the eco-friendly Acorn House restaurant is just around the corner, Medcalf tips it's hat to seasonal, sometimes organic and the award winning super duper Duke of Cambridge is but a 10 minute meander in the other direction. These places are well known, and very popular - justifiably so.

Yet, there is one restaurant that is quietly forging ahead without a PR company to blow it's trumpet or a marketing plan to put itself on the map. If anything, The Ambassador has a bit of a renegade streak. Yes, it's important to them to work closely with their suppliers. They work with small outfits, artisans and family producers. All their meat is rare breed from small farms and if not actually certified organic, is as good as, with Herdwick lamb and Galloway beef from the Farmer Sharp stable of sustainable suppliers. Veggies are seasonal and local, with little knowledge of a pesticide spray. Water is Belu - because, as Clive says "what they're doing just makes sense". He even has it delivered by pallett instead of having just a dozen cases at a time. It's a bit more work, but he acknowledges it contributes to keeping delivery emissions a little lower - and hey, it helps with his costings too. The remarkably good wine list has a fair smattering of organic and biodynamic wines (and a generous choice by the glass), wines from small producers - wines with good stories.

The Ambassador is run by Clive Greenhalgh. He started off at The Eagle long ago. He earned his stripes as front of house at The Brackenbury, alongside chefs Jonathan Jones (now of the Anchor & Hope) and Trish Hilferty (now of The Fox), before running The Chiswick. So this is a man who knows his food and wine. And that's where his money has gone in this venture, not on flashy surroundings. Wooden tables and bistro chairs are virtually the only adornments, giving it the quiet air of a Hopper painting. Everything seems to be happening just out of range. As indeed it is – the kitchen is there at the rear, not hidden, but not exactly obvious either. He's got a good chef in there too - Toby Jilsmark, a Swede who brings an interesting influence. His geographical heritage has imparted the practise of making best out of limited ingredients, layering flavour to a dish that looks deceptively simple. Take the humble carrot. It may arrive on your plate, alongside a meltingly delicate hunk of braised veal (see The Good Veal Guide ), pureed as well as sitting prettily pert and peeled. Thus you have the delightful sensation of contrasting texture as well as heightening of the flavours. This is skilled and thoughtful craft. Not , I have to admit, what I can be bothered to do at home.

Back to that renegade aspect. The problem is, I bet you didn't know any of that ‘caring for the food’ stuff is there. But that’s just it. Clive does not want you to remember The Ambassador for it's sustainable credentials. You won’t get to know of much of this unless you ask, and ask some more. He and his team just quietly get on with what they do, caring all the while. He wants you to come back simply because "the food tastes nice, it's served well, and is fairly priced." Gosh, I nearly forgot - it's all that too.

For full article: see The Ecologist Blog: Fish Food and Freezers
[photo credits: Ecologist feature banner, lunch dish at Konstam]

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