AUTHOR: TOM TANNER
The winner of the 2019 Sustainability Award at the National Restaurant Awards is…OXO Tower Restaurant, Bar and Brasserie. Raise a glass to the riverside restaurant and while you help celebrate their success, drink in a top tip from their submission. When asked to describe an initiative launched in the past 12 months that’s made a big difference, demonstrating impact, integrity and influence, OXO didn’t submit one idea, nor two. They told us about three winning ideas – about which more in a bit.
Bear with us while we provide you with a little background about this important award.
Seven years ago we partnered for the first time with the National Restaurant Awards on what was a new category – the Sustainable Restaurant Award. For the first six years we followed the same formula to find the winning restaurant, inviting all of the restaurant listed on the list of the Top 100 restaurants to complete our Sustainability Rating. Worthy winners included Bruno Loubet’s game-changing Grain Store and The PIG in the new Forest and Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
Then for the 2018 renewal we sat down with Restaurant magazine editor Stefan Chomka and decided that rather than recognise the restaurant from the list that had achieved the highest overall score in the rating we’d take a different approach. With climate change and plastic pollution taking on ever greater urgency we felt the time was right to introduce two significant changes. Firstly, we would move away from the whole business assessment approach and instead invite restaurants to highlight one initiative they’d implemented over the preceding 12 months. We’d also ask them to describe its impact – ideally with evidence – and demonstrate how they had used their influence to share their idea.
As the SRA’s membership grows and its Food Made Good online community platform builds ever wider connections across the industry, so we come to understand the true value of sharing solutions to these huge issues. It really is time for chefs to look up from the hob, to open the window and shout about the ever more creative ways they’re finding to reduce their impact on the planet – taking on the tastiest challenge on the planning and winning in the most delicious way – on the plate.
The second major change was to open up the award to all UK restaurants, rather than just those elite 100. A winning idea is a winning idea no matter what sort of kitchen it’s cooked up in – fine dining or high street.
The winner of the 2018 award epitomised this. Beachside café-ODE, recruiting customers, neighbouring restaurants, suppliers and local children in their environmental crusade – kicking single-use plastic out of the community.
ODE well and truly demonstrated that a restaurant business, no matter how small and regardless of location, can show people what a better food system can look like, both on the plate and beyond.
And so to the 2019 National Restaurant Awards. The SRA and Restaurant Magazine resolved this year to make another small tweak. To emphasise the judges’ focus on a discrete initiative when assessing entries, we renamed the category – the Sustainability Award.
Here’s how OXO impressed the judges…
Executive Chef Jeremy Bloor and his team looked beyond the four walls of the iconic riverside restaurant to tackle some of the biggest environmental issues of the day.
They made a conscious decision to work more collaboratively with other SRA members and external partners in order that they could scale up the impact of projects they were already working on.
In June 2018 they partnered with caterer Vacherin and waste management company Bywaters on a Thames beach clean for World Environment Day. Following this success they invited Bywaters to join future cleans and supported these with a big PR push, highlighting the issue of single-use plastic. More local businesses, community groups and restaurants have been enlisted over the following months in this great public-facing approach to tackling packaging.
Acknowledging that the best way to influence diners’ minds is through their taste buds, OXO also used the plate to deliver its customers a strong message. Tom Hunt, Founder of Poco Tapas Bar, winner of the Food Made Good Sustainable Business of the Year 2018, was hired in to work with OXO Head Chef Keir Barry to create a menu served throughout the week surrounding Earth Day in April 2019. Highlighting the impact our food choices make on biodiversity, it featured produce such as ramsons, cod cheeks, lobster shell sauce and caramelised salsify, showing how often wasted and undervalued seasonal produce can be used to create an appealing and ethical menu.
OXO’s third winning initiative saw them use their influence as educators, working with Roehampton University to create a food waste workshop for their nutrition students.
Three initiatives all with impact, integrity and influence tackling three of the big issues affecting our food system – food waste, plastics and biodiversity. Congratulations to OXO Tower Restaurant, Bar and Brasserie, worthy winners of the National Restaurant Awards Sustainability Award 2019.