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.
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.
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.
Bethan Ryder is an accomplished writer and critic of restaurant design. She has written books with titles like, "New Bar and Club Design," "Restaurant Design," and "New Restaurant Design," which highlight particular clubs, bars, or restaurants of interest that she critiques and explains why their designs work so well.