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Cultivating Good Taste

Grown, harvested, prepped, and cooked all in the same place, farm-to-table fare is coming to a city near you.

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In London, lush sprouting herbs and grasses in metal troughs add greenery to the Rooftop restaurant at Sir Terence Conran’s Boundary Hotel; Chicago’s Uncommon Ground has a full-fledged, neatly landscaped organic rooftop garden complete with beehives. The Platonic ideal of the still-surging farm-to-table movement is the self-sufficient restaurant that grows its own produce on-site. And plenty are moving in this direction.

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In the southwest London borough of Richmond, chef Skye Gyngell of the shabby-chic Petersham Nurseries Cafe uses seasonal produce grown right there. Set within and around the main greenhouse, the rough, dirt-floored cafe, which has just won that hoary old badge, a Michelin star, is styled rather than designed with antique furniture, mismatched timber-and-metal tables, and chairs with sackcloth cushions.

At the other end of the scale are the far more lo-fi neighborhood Frizzante cafes in Hackney and Surrey Docks City Farms in East London. Vegetable-growing initiatives for local kids are on the menu, and visitors are encouraged to feed the livestock before tucking into simple and cheap cafe grub served from open canteen kitchens onto utilitarian painted wooden tables. The waft of manure may hit your nostrils as you depart, but hey, that’s keeping it real.

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This is a concept ripe for development and one yet to receive the slick, sophisticated design treatment of high-end eateries. There is a real risk, however, that this could endanger the very authenticity these places offer, but the seeds are surely already being sown somewhere for an haute-on-the-range resto. Even McDonald’s latest attempt at positive PR in the United Kingdom is a series of “open farm events,” launched as part of their Olympics 2012 sponsorship, where members of the public have the opportunity to visit the farms that supply them. We’d love to see a McDonald’s City Farm Cafe in the works, and here’s hoping they’d trade the PlayPlace for a cattle paddock.

 

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  • restaurant design

    An Introduction to Restaurant Design

    Eating has always been a sociable event, from primitive campfire cooking to reclining on lectuli at lavish Greek and Roman banquets. However, although taverns and inns had always existed, the restaurant as an institution didn’t fully emerge until the 17th century. The word “restaurant” initially appeared in the 16th century, meaning a restorative broth, but by 1771 the term had mutated to refer to an “establishment specializing in the sale of restorative foods” as well. Like so much in culinary history, the Parisians owned the sophisticated version of the concept as American and British visitors marveled at the phenomenon.

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