By Tom Tanner, Sustainable Restaurant Association
Since we started assessing restaurants’ sustainability back in 2010, we’ve bestowed the Food Made Good certification on tens of thousands of sites, large and small. The Walled Gardens Underground Restaurant, two miles from Manchester City Centre is undoubtedly the smallest. It’s also one of the most interesting and inspiring. Having achieved Three Stars at the first attempt, owner, chef, waiter, pot washer and general one-man band, Eddie Shepherd, took time out to share the story behind his venture and why, in his view, small is beautiful both for business and the planet.
Eddie says the concept of the one-man band restaurant was inspired partly by financial necessity (he couldn’t raise the money necessary for a larger one). In truth though, he loved the idea of the small operation. “I felt it lent itself to a more direct and personal experience. I could cut out so many of the complications that come with taking on a separate building and hiring a team. I wasn’t sure if it would be viable. Six years in and I’ve proved that it can work.”
As well as working for Eddie from a logistics point of view, the eight-seater pre-booked only, set vegetarian tasting menu model is a gift for the planet too.
No choice, no waste
“It is a really efficient way to run a restaurant. There is way less waste. I know exactly how many people I’m catering for every service. That means I can cook pretty much exactly what I need. I’ve got no room for unnecessary waste either physically or financially. I’m also lucky to work with suppliers who are happy to take packaging back or deliver in recyclable or reusable packaging.”
A large proportion of the ingredients come from right outside the door of the restaurant, handily situated on the ground floor of Eddie’s home. A vast array of vegetables and herbs and now honey from his own bees dominate the menu. Foraged food, from mushrooms to spruce tips enhance the hyper-locally sourced dishes and also introduce guests to new flavours.
An excellent example of Eddie’s mission to enthuse his guests with new taste experiences while also keeping what goes in the bin to an absolute minimum, is a new addition to the menu.
He makes a sorbet made from an infusion of larch cones and spruce needles. He then makes a second infusion with the needles to marinate a cucumber and then a third, mixing them sugar for a garnish.
With his own compelling story to tell, Eddie takes full advantage of the opportunity to communicate with customers in his time spent front of house.
Tell your sustainability story softly
“The guests have to walk passed my raised beds when they arrive, and then I present them with a gin and tonic, distilled with some of the herbs I’ve grown here. I try not to be heavy-handed, but people want to know, and it come up naturally. When I serve the nettle soup, people are fascinated by eating wild, neglected foods. I feel like I can have a significant, soft influence on my customers.”
While the menu is entirely vegetarian and mostly vegan, bar the honey from his own bees and some cheese, Eddie reckons the vast majority of his guests are meat eaters. “For me, even thought I’ve been vegetarian for 18 years, it’s less about persuading them to change their lifestyle and more about showing them that they can enjoy a luxury, high-end dining experience without meat. Ninety per cent of my guests are probably not vegetarian and they leave saying they’ve never had veggie food like this before.”
As well as the face-to-face interactions with his customers, Eddie also has his own Youtube channel where he demonstrates dishes championing the same ethos – to a wider audience.
What about the overall experience of completing the Food Made Good Rating?
“I was kind of daunted when I sat down to do it,” Eddie says. “But once I got going, I realised it’s not nearly as I complicated as I’d thought. It’s really helped me get a clearer sense of where I am and what changes I need to make. It also opened my eyes to the impact of some of the things I do and I’m now on it with those.”
In fact, Eddie has already made some changes in the kitchen which should see him reduce both his environmental impact and his energy bills.
“I had a fresh look at how I was doing things and as an example, I realised that my sous vide bath is a very efficient way of heating things, so I’m now using that way more and my hob less, helping by bills and carbon usage.”
If you’d like to follow in Eddie’s small footsteps and complete the Food Made Good Rating, click here.