Tag Archive for: sustainable

I was blackberrying the other day in the fields above our house. The gleamingly ripe berries were destined for a crumble, but I was reminded of alternative uses. Maybe to make the perfect seasonal sauce to accompany grouse. Alas, that’s now a great gustatory treat forsworn. This particular game bird is off my menu. For ethical reasons.

According to Chris Packham, since 2018 in the UK there have been 101 illegally killed hen harriers, plus tens of thousands of eagles, kites, buzzards, hundreds of thousands of foxes, stoats, corvids all killed, and vast swathes of upland have been ecologically damaged by burning. And all the while, I understand, grouse moor owners have been granted tax concessions.

I’ve been equally wobbly about that other traditional emblem of the hunting, shooting and fishing lobby – salmon. Except wild with its remarkable story is very much the exception these days. It is the industrial scale horror of fish faming that fuels my concerns.

The conservation charity Wildfish claims (and I have no reason to doubt them) that a reported 900,000 Scottish farmed salmon died between June 1 and 30 2023, bringing the total for the year so far to an estimated 5.6 million. That’s 1.6 million more fish compared with the same period last year.

It’s a wake-up call about the environmental, sustainability, and welfare issues connected with open-net farmed salmon. And since Wildfish launched its Off the table campaign encouraging restaurants to take such produce off its menus there has been a strong support from the likes of Fergus Henderson’s St John Restaurant in London and Michelin-starred Old Stamp House in Ambleside, The Palmerston and Fhior in Edinburgh and  Silo in Hackney. More than 100 destinations are now listed on an international directory of ‘refuseniks’.

Tim Maddams, former Head Chef of River Cottage says of the farmed salmon industry: “It’s inefficient, misleading in its advertising, it’s polluting, and it endangers the already massively threatened wild salmon. There are plenty of better, tastier, and far more sustainable options.”

In brief Wildfish’s damning claims about the Scottish farmed salmon industry

Mass production: intensive salmon farming creates a breeding ground for diseases and parasites. According to a WildFish report, in 2022, a single Scottish salmon farm can be infested with as many as 5 million parasitic sea lice at any one time – juvenile lice spread out from the farms, risking potentially fatal infestations in wild salmon and sea trout.

Impact on wild fish: it’s estimated that 440 wild fish are required as feed to produce one farmed salmon OR around 2.5kg (wild-caught fish as feed) per 1kg (farmed salmon). The industry relies on wild fish such as wild herring, anchovies, and mackerel for this feed; 90 per cent of which could be directly eaten by people.

 • Contamination: despite farmed salmon often being labelled as “responsibly produced”, the Scottish salmon farming industry is the only UK livestock industry to report increasing antibiotic usage trends), according to the UK Veterinary Antibiotic Resistance and Sales Surveillance Report published in 2022. The industry also continues to use chemical pesticides, toxic to marine life, that can spread as far as 39km away from the farms. According to an analysis by Inside Scottish Salmon Feedlots, Scottish salmon farm waste is equivalent to the volume of sewage produced by half of Scotland – approximately 35,000 tonnes per year.

Making a decision on what salmon you’ll buy. Go Faroe!

I accept the fact that most supermarkets and even traditional fishmongers don’t have access (or don’t seek access) to ethically reared fish, while punters may not care to splash out the big bucks for the wild stuff when it’s available, but, as with free range chicken, it is worth going the extra mile in your quest for salmon.

You can find wild salmon on occasions on the slab at one of the UK’s finest fishmongers, Out of the Blue in Chorlton, Manchester. They also regularly stock what many would claim is the king of sustainably farmed salmon from the pure waters off the spectacular Faroe Islands (above, out in the North Atlantic between Norway and Greenland,).

Faroes’ surroundings are the natural feeding ground of wild Atlantic salmon, which travel out from the rivers of Europe before heading back to spawn. Perfect environment also for fish farming with a conscience. No antibiotics to treat disease have been used for 20 years. Resulting product, off the back of a couple of OTB purchases, offers a rich buttery taste with a firm texture, the roseate colour the result of naturally occurring carotenoids, not dye. These come primarily from the healthy pigment astaxanthin, derived from a diet of microalgae and shrimp. And it has a high omega-3 content. Herring and eel are also part of the diet, helping build up that healthy fat content and his protein levels.

One obvious benchmark – it is sushi-graded, so can be safely consumed raw. Whatever you do with such quality salmon don’t over cook it. My personal preference is to smoke it gently with beech or cherry wood chips in my Cameron’s stovetop smoker.

Or maybe head down the Iceland route (and I don’t mean the supermarket)

We had to pass through the Cotswold town of Burford en route for Oxford recently, which meant visiting its glorious church to pay our respects to the three Levellers leaders executed there on Cromwell’s orders in May, 1649. His troops had first penned them inside St John The Baptist along with 340 other rebels who shared their ‘socialist’ beliefs. There’s a plaque to the trio in the churchyard.

Two miles away was the other object of our pilgrimage – The Upton Smokery, which has featured in the Financial Times top 50 places to shop in the world. We dropped in to purchase smoked eel. As with the great Jeremy ‘Quo Vadis’ Lee, who created his signature sandwich to showcase its delights, it is a passion of mine. And Upton smoke it on site.

They also stock arguably the world’s most sustainable land-reared fish sourced from Icelandic aquaculturists Silverscale.

Upton founder Chris Mills says: “I have been caught in a trap of supporting an industry (salmon farming) which I simply don’t believe in. Open cage salmon farming at sea is an environmental tragedy with such a low level of husbandry that, if people really knew what happened below water, they would never eat salmon again.

“Silverscale is changing that so I am thrilled to be part of this new initiative. Only good husbandry, pure water and zero chemicals can produce an end product to match its wild cousin. Wild Atlantic salmon is an incredible species in terrible trouble. Open caged salmon farming at sea is having a dire effect on their very existence and the only responsible and sustainable form of salmon farming has to be done in a controlled environment on land. Iceland is the obvious place to achieve this.”

Still in development, Silverscale expect to harvest  500-1000 tons this year increasing to 30,000 tons plus from salmon brood stock entirely raised in Iceland from egg.

You can buy smoked Icelandic salmon and char online from Upton.

Fish heads? I have form for devouring them. Witness the board below at the late, lamented Umezushi in Manchester. That was 2018 (note the prices) and I went for the hamachi. So the dish-determined-to-surprise on the menu at Fallow held no fears. Dowsed in a sriracha emulsion, the smoked cod’s head held plenty of crannies from which to prise collagen-rich morsels. Crumbled charcuterie adding an extra swoosh of umami. Messy, mind, but they reportedly sold 10,000 in their first five months of Fallow’s meteoric rise.

More a dish the likes of which you might find a short walk away in London’s Chinatown. Definitely not one for the pre-theatre crowd en route to Phantom of the Opera further down Haymarket. In that context this all-day restaurant/bar, created by two Heston Blumenthal alumni, should feel like a fish out of water (sic). Especially since it flaunts a sustainability ethos that’s as brazen as its prices. Given all this, it possesses a flamboyant yet democratic buzz. 

Not what you’d always expect from a joint perched at No.13 in the Estella Damm Top 50 Restaurants list. That’s a place behind my beloved Angel at Hetton, though its sense of theatre leans towards numero uno Ynyshir.

I had a front row seat for all this – at the Chef’s Counter, the hectic pass just to my right. None of your The Bear/Boiling Point chaos, though,about this operation, which started in 2020 as a residency at 10 Heddon Street, off Regent Street, before moving to St James’s this year. It was a bold move, smacking of serious investment at a time when the hospitality industry is facing horrendous challenges. Even so this week, hearteningly, its trade body reaffirmed its commitment to sustainability and reducing food waste with a 10 point plan. Fallow is already an object lesson in combining such principles with top quality dining. Their website calls it ‘conscious gastronomy’. Nothing gets thrown away and ‘nose to tail’ ‘farm to fork guides everything they cook.

All of which I contemplate as I gaze up at the hand foraged seaweed, dried flowers and recycled paper decorations dangling from the ceiling, a decor of repurposed materials including mussel and oyster shells and consider the provenance of my mushroom parfait, created from fungi farmed in the basement.

Originally co-founders Will Murray and Jack Croft would buy wonky mushrooms from their suppliers; now they use their own in-house lion’s mane along with smoked shitake. They caramelise them down, adding mirin and tamari. Puréed, butter and eggs are mixed in to create a sustainable mirror image of a classic liver parfait (with further mushrooms draped over. Not dissimilar really, at a fraction of the cost, to the booze and foie-gras laden Meat Fruit, at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, where the two young chefs met.

There’s a similar decadent aura from frugal ingredients about my next, equally glorious course, where a fatty salmon belly cut has been whipped into a mousse. It is served in a marrow bone, whose dripping contents add the ooze factor to an accompanying brioche bun. What a belting dish.

This is undoubtedly rich, quite heavy food. Even the corn ribs ‘pop-up signature dish’ I snaffle with an aperitif of Guinness has made a big statement. Chunks of sweetcorn are first deep-fried then sprinkled with kombu. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Alternatively there is a brace of real ribs (back, dairy cow, smoked) as a heftier snack. I still eye with envy the Carlingford oysters being shucked across the counter, but £25 for half a dozen feels too much. 

If you reject the good value Monday-Friday £35 three course offer at lunch the bill can mount up (there’s a £12 truffle supplement on that £24 parfait), especially if you get stuck into the drinks list. I stay with the £8 pint of stout and add a £9 glass of Mencia for my final dish, a beef carpaccio. Fallow’s steaks and burgers are all trumpeted as 45-day aged ex-dairy cow, so I presume my generous helping of anchovy mayo-dressed carpaccio, topped with grated horseradish and gherkin, is no different. From my up-close stool I have watched the sous chef deftly assemble little ‘spoons’ of chicory leaf I am to scoop up my beef with. I was glad of them. The wild-farmed sourdough with fermented potato flour is the one disappointment of an exemplary lunch.

So where to next? A matinee of The Phantom? No. Lucian Freud: New Perspectives at the equally close National Gallery. All for the price of a half dozen Carlingfords.

Fallow, 2 St James’s Market, London, SW1Y 4RP. T Main image (with truffles) from Fallow Facebook page.

It’s the beery equivalent of Beaujolais Nouveau – well kind of. I’ve never twigged why, Kent apart, we don’t celebrate the UK’s new ‘green’ hops harvest by brewing with them. Virtually straight from the stalk. It’s a big thing in the craft ale heartlands of the USA.

On a road trip stop-off in Washington State’s hop capital, Yakima, we were devastated to discover we were one week early to join in the annual ‘Fresh Hop Party’. Bet it was an epic celebration in the heart of the fertile volcanic soil where 75 per cent of American hops are grown. Cascade, Chinook, Centennial and the rest.

Victoria Baths on Hathersage Road becomes the epicentre of UK beer culture for four days

At Indy Man Beer Con at Manchester’s Victoria Baths (Sept 29-Oct 2) we aim to make up for that miss in a small way by sampling ‘Hops are Green’, an Extra Special Bitter created by JW Lees specially for the festival, returning after a  two year hiatus. 

We suggest you do the same. Nominally sold out, IMBC have just released a batch of extra tickets.Tickets are available for the following sessions: evenings 5:30pm-10.30pm  Thursday/Friday/Saturday; daytimes 11pm-4pm, Friday/ Saturday; and on Sunday 1pm-6pm. Buy via this link but hurry!

Of all the area’s traditional family brewers 200-year-old Middleton-based Lees are the ones who get down most with the craft beer kids. They’ve long shared with Cloudwater some of their legendary, long-lived yeast strains. Just this week I tasted a Cloudwater ‘JW Lees’ DIPA in a can that was quite splendidly balanced – at 9%!

Lees’ own ‘Hops are Green’ is a quite different beast, inspired by a need to start a conversation about sustainability in beer. The industry is facing multiple challenges from climate change and inflation to water shortages and demographic shifts. 

Independent Manchester Beer Convention (to give its full title) and JW Lees wanted to explore how you might brew with a lower carbon footprint, which helps the brewer run a successful business, delivers a beer which the craft beer drinker loves, but which doesn’t break the bank. Beer brewed and drunk locally, with more locally sourced ingredients could be part of the answer.

That means marking the sustainble progress made by domestic hop growers rather than importing from far-away Yakima (or even New Zealand). Groundbreaking Brook House Hops in Herefordshire fits that bill admirably.

Matt Gorecki, Head of Beer at the festival told me: “We all love American Hops and we have for years, but we can’t ignore what people like Brook House are doing right here on the doorstep.They’re growing some mega stuff! When we first spoke to JW Lees and heard Michael’s story about working with the same farmers and fields as his grandfather we just felt that we could bring together the best of both worlds.”

Lees were definitely up for it. Head Brewer Michael Lees-Jones, said: “We are experienced in adapting as the world changes around us.  In order to stay relevant and to keep pouring beer for the next 200 years we need to remain curious and to experiment with different ideas. We think it is great that the IMBC team are asking questions about sustainability in beer as we consider how we can be a more sustainable brewery.”

I haven’t tasted ‘Hops are Green’ yet, but like the sound of it – an Extra Special Bitter. “Typically a malt forward brew using English yeast and firm but not over the top hopping, it will be finished using freshly harvested green hops from the forward thinking hop growers at Brook House.” 

So what are Green or ‘Wet’ Hops?

An ingredient  with a lower carbon footprint due to their lack of time in an energy intensive kiln, where hops are usually cured to preserve and intensify their flavour. They’re used in an array of seasonal beers in the US around harvest time but curiously not so much in the UK. They’re grown in Herefordshire and were transported to the brewery by road. It will preview at the festival and be available at several JW Lees pubs as well as Port Street Beer House.

This beer is the first in a series of beers produced with sustainability in mind, with Cheltenham based Deya Brewery, picking up the baton to create the next product following the festival. Any brewery wishing to get involved can contact the IMBC team through their social media channels.

Welcome back Indyman

Since its inception in 2012 Independent Manchester Beer Convention (Indy Man Beer Con/IMBC) has proved a world class showcase for the most forward thinking breweries from the UK and beyond. Everything about it (apart from the amount consumed) is different from the traditional beer festival. Not least the venue – the Grade II listed, architectural gem Victoria Baths.

Inclusivity and diversity are part of its appeal. And great street food. This year’s focus on sustainability and environmental awareness of the impact of the brewing industry sees special, cross-Atlantic collaborative brewing and innovative approaches to recycling spent products.

It’s a big step up from that first pioneering IMBC, created by Jonny Heyes, founder of Common & Co (Common, The Beagle, Nell’s Pizza, Summer Beer Thing). Just two rooms were used, hosting only 20 breweries. Nowadays more than 60 breweries will occupy every nook and cranny . From the main ‘stages’ in the old swimming pools to tasting areas and snug bars in the Turkish Baths, the breweries will pour a selection of their beers to thousands of beer lovers and converts alike.

A wet Wednesday morning in Mitton, Lancashire and I am admiring a tub of saffron milkcaps. Or to give this delectable wild mushroom its even more exotic Latin tag: Lactarius deliciosus. Not to be confused with the Woolly Milkcap (Lactarius torminosus), which is poisonous.

I ask the mycophile (edible mushroom gather) I’ve just met, Matt Rivers, if he every gets jittery about fungi identifications. There have been moments, he admits. He works a carefully chosen woodland patch to the east of Blackburn. He’d love to locate morels, a valuable restaurant staple, but so far no luck.

Matt is here at The Three Fishes, groundbreaking gastropub being brought back from the dead, because he has done business before with its chef/patron Nigel Haworth. In his days fronting Michelin-starred Northcote down the road Nigel – along with arch-rival Paul Heathcote – forged the gastronomic reputation of the Ribble Valley. 

But it was the collection of pubs, trading under the name Ribble Valley Inns, that spread the image of a terroir rich in raw materials and artisan providers. The Three Fishes was the first of these food-centric inns, back in 2004. There were five in total across the North West by the time RVI was bought by big bucks chain Brunning & Price in 2018. Nigel admits the final venture down into deepest Cheshire had been a step too far.

The new owners, with a strong presence in that county, chose not to add the Nag’s Head, Haughton to their 62-strong pub portfolio. Out of the four they did purchase Three Fishes was shut down within year. Bizarrely B&P already owned The Aspinall Arms a third of a mile away. Big money had been lavished on its refurb and consequently the Fishes languished in its shadow.

Nigel and his young staff have taken possession of the shiny new kitchen in the build up to November 12

All this is in the past, as is Nigel Haworth’s involvement with Northcote, now owned by the group behind London’s Stafford Hotel and Norma restaurant (read my review). In an act of of fate his current resurgence stems from a chance meeting at his beloved Obsession chef festival (the last one held, in 2020). Martin Aspinall’s family have been Ribble Valley grandees for centuries and he agreed to go 50:50 to fund The Three Fishes rebirth. 

As we negotiate a hectic construction work in progress Nigel tells me: “It was always in the back of my mind that I’d go back, though even I didn’t realise what a sorry state the building was in. New electrics, windows, a new kitchen and so much more, but we are getting there.”

The reopening was scheduled for the end of October but after “unexpected hurdles” the official opening date has now shifted to Wednesday November 17. Such is the popularity of Haworth and the Fishes’ reputation they have already been inundated with enquiries. Christmas should be sold out.

So what should returning devotees and a new generation of customers expect? “An offering somewhere between gastropub and fine dining with an emphasis on farm to fork sustainability,  new beginning” says Nigel.

Back in the day the pub’s walls were festooned with arty monochrome images of its suppliers, moody poses with pigs or cabbages and there was a map charting North West suppliers. Many of these veteran supporters are rallying to the new venture but Nigel’s new focus is growing on site with an acre of veg plot, a 30m x 10m poly tunnel and an emphasis on permaculture. “We’ll be composting all our own waste, aiming eventually at zero waste. For long term we are creating our own orchard, too. Giving back to the land. We are not looking back, we are looking forward.”

The food offering will concentrate on four course seasonal set menus – £50 at lunch, £65 in the evening. Mains will be in the £20-£30 bracket, puddings around an £8 price point. There will be a selection of 60 wines and beers will be local. A 16-capacity private dining room, with baronial sliding door symbolises the aspiration to transcend the old Fishes, which occasionally felt formulaic and canteen-like (in my opinion) despite the quality of the food.

The legendary Haworth hotpot, star of the BBC’s Great British Menu that has even been an upmarket ready meal

Lancashire hotpot is the dish synonymous with Nigel Haworth after his refined version, using local Lonk lamb, went all the way to the Banquet in Great British Menu a decade ago. Would it feature on the new Three Fishes Menu? I forgot to ask in the makeover tumult. Thanks to Nigel for mailing me a specimen menu later. No sign of the hotpot, but there’s grilled turbot, roasted red leg partridge and a fascinating Herdwick lamb combo – loin, liver, sticky belly, turnip gratin and pat choi. The whole menu goes up on the website by midday on Sunday, October 31 when bookings go live.

Behind schedule, having just lost a key member of his kitchen brigade, with the price of that favoured Herdwick lamb going through the roof, yet you sense it is not just The Three Fishes that is being reinvigorated. “Why am I doing this? Well, I just love to cook, that’s what I do.”