September 29, 2009 / 11:45 AM / 10 years ago

Eating ethically at England's Alimentum restaurant

CAMBRIDGE, England (Reuters Life!) - The decor is smart and the location well-suited for business, but it’s the ever-changing menu and ethical feel-good factor that sets British restaurant Alimentum apart.

The restaurant — on the ground floor of a newish building and close to the railway station in this ancient English university town — is serious about finding the most ethical sources for the modern French food it serves its guests.

Head Chef Mark Poynton told Reuters that he and Alimentum owner John Hudgell visit local farms, talk to producers and even check veterinary bills to find the best ethically sourced food, grown locally and to top standards.

“It’s taken me five weeks to source scallops on a daily basis,” Poynton said as an example of the lengths he and Hudgell will go to find line-caught or day boat fish, organic standard vegetables, hand-dived scallops, beef, lamb, pork and chicken that has been reared well.

Consequently the menu is constantly in flux with sources and the seasons, which Poynton says makes his job a bit of an adventure every day.

“There’s a constant evolution in what you are doing,” he adds.

Customers clearly love the food — business was up 46 percent alone in June this year over the same month in 2008 despite the recession — and the ethically minded can tuck in with no regrets.

The watchdog for animal welfare in Britain, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, gave Alimentum an award for innovation last year and is currently considering it for “best ethical independent business award” in 2009.


The food press have also started to take note with recommendations from Jasper Gerrard in the Telegraph newspaper, Toptable website calling it a “must for fanatical foodies and ethical fashionistas” and the Guardian newspaper saying: “Our whole evening was an exercise in the layering of pleasure upon pleasure, which is, after all, the point of dining.”

But just because the food is good, the sourcing is ethical, the menus are paper, the straws are bio-degradable and Hudgell has even considered his carbon footprint down to the dimmable LED lighting, don’t expect this 60-seat restaurant to be all po-faced about your dining experience.

Plenty of thought has been put into the fun too.

The restaurant has established itself as a jazz venue on Tuesday nights and has a cocktail bar. Natalie Williams, a regular at Ronnie Scott’s in London, opened its fourth 12-week jazz “season” in September.

Alimentum has also been pragmatic about its business plan for fighting the results of the credit crunch.

The jazz is free with a three-course dinner on Tuesdays at 29.50 pounds ($46.84), Thursday is “Bring Your Own Wine” night and “happy Mondays” come with a fixed price menu.

“It’s about giving added value to our customers so that when the economic climate does change, we still have a business formula that is totally and utterly sustainable,” Hudgell said.

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