The Duke of Cambridge in Islington looks just like any other cosy London pub from the outside. But, step inside, and it’s a whole other story.
The Duke of Cambridge is the UK’s first and only wholly, 100% organic pub.
It’s not just the food either; all the furniture is either second hand, repurposed or recycled; all glass, cardboard, paper and tins is recycled, and the pub’s food waste is collected for generating energy via an anaerobic digester.
Founder and owner Geetie Singh was awarded an MBE in 2009, and teamed up with Guy Watson, the man behind Riverford Field Kitchen – a field to fork establishment on his organic family farm.
The pub offers an ever-changing menu, depending on what’s in season and available.
So how do they do it? I had a chat with Geetie, to find out just how practical running an organic-only pub is.
What prompted you to open an organic pub?
“Having worked in the restaurant industry for a number of years before I opened the pub, I was shocked at how little chefs, and by extension, front of house staff, knew about providence and seasonality.
“This disconnect with what we were eating resulted in excessive food waste and undoubtedly the hidden environmental impact of food miles and unsustainably grown produce. Everything we serve at The Duke is organic or wild, and we try to source as locally as possible. I also think that organic food simply tastes better!”
How easy do you find it to source organic produce?
We’ve built wonderful relationships with our suppliers in our 18 years of trading, so we’re lucky in that respect. It’s much easier to find new organic suppliers today than when we first started out though. Riverford, who supply our veg, deliver fantastic organic produce to thousands of homes in the UK every week.
And what about sustainable fish?
Sustainably caught fish is a much harder issue for restaurants. We buy directly off a fisher family in Cornwall, who have a passion for fish stock preservation and have been monitored by marine biologists. As they are genuine day boats (you hear that term banded about without any real substance to it), when the weather is stormy they don’t fish. Then we buy organically farmed or MSC certified, its our back up.
Are you surprised you remain Britain’s only organic pub?
In some ways, yes. But actually there is little motive for restaurants to be certified organic as the term organic is not protected under EU law when it comes to catering. So any restaurant can use any organic ingredient and label it as such despite not having to prove traceability. This breaks the chain, and I think it’s very sad and very remiss. Having said that, it is a trading standard issue, so you can still be prosecuted if you lie. Riverford at the Duke is certified by the Soil Association, as is the Field Kitchen our restaurant in Devon. We believe this is the most sustainably stance we can take, any restaurant can take!
Do you think people are put off organic by price? Is it actually that much more expensive?
I think there’s a false perception that organic food is more expensive. Riverford’s vegboxes tend to be about 20% less expensive than the organic veg sold in supermarkets for example. When you look at the extra skill and planning that goes into organic farming, it’s a small price to pay for doing something to protect the future of our planet.
Our restaurants prices are in keeping with our competitors and often cheaper. AND everything is organic! How do we do that? We run and very tight ship, we use whole animals, we don’t waste anything and we all care very much about where our food comes from. If only our government would see organic farming as something that is beneficial to our land, society and the tax payer, something that can work alongside conventional instead of knocking it at every opportunity. Nearly every other government in Europe and world ENCOURAGE organic production as they see it as beneficial to their health and finances., why can’t we do that in the UK?
How important do you think it is that food is labelled with where it came from, so consumers can make an informed choice?
This is something that is so important to me and we work really hard to highlight our growers and suppliers in the pub. Each month, we put the spotlight on three vegetables which feature in lots of dishes on the menu and we’ll provide our customers with information about the growers and varieties which is displayed around the pub. Stories such as the fictional Tesco farms which was in the press recently highlight just how misleading so much information provided to us is, and we would like to see much more transparency in the food industry as a whole.