When chef Oliver Rowe announced plans to open a central London restaurant serving only food produced on it’s doorstep some questioned the practicality of the idea but, two years on, Konstam is regularly booked weeks in advance and locally sourced, seasonal ingredients are increasingly appearing on menus across the capital.
Chef Oliver Rowe, 34, is probably more familiar than most people with London’s tube network. It’s the way he found most of the suppliers for his King’s Cross restaurant, he explains. “A lot of our producers are close to tube stations or just a short taxi ride away. It’s a lot better than driving and once you get outside the centre it’s above ground so much more pleasant.”
On his travels , which were covered in the BBC TV series Urban Chef, Oliver discovered a host of local suppliers including Stockings Farm in Amersham, at the end of the Metropolitan Line, where he gets lamb, mutton and pork, a mushroom farm located underneath the North Circular and a flour mill in Ponders End.
“The mill was a very lucky find,” explains Oliver. “They get supplies from all over the place but tell me when local wheat is coming in and bag it up for me.” During fishing trips off Canvey Island, Oliver sourced sole, sprats and herring in the Thames and following a trip to Epping he found a rapeseed oil which he says tastes better than olive oil.
Tracking down good wines was a challenge but Oliver managed to find excellent English wines from Painshill Park in Surrey and champagne from Nyetimber in West Sussex, while Battersea Brewery supplies his beer.
Oliver says he doesn’t find his decision restricting at all. Unlike many restaurants where they decide what they want to cook and order in the ingredients, at Konstam, he says, they simply do it the other way.
“We look at what is available and create a menu around that. It forces us to be creative. We can’t use rice, for example, but we can use barley which is great British grain.” Starters at the stylish former pub include charcoal-grilled Mersea cuttlefish and pickled Hastings mackerel with main courses of slow-cooked Amersham bacon and pan-roast Mersea plaice followed by Dartford strawberry custard tartlet, lavender ice-cream and local cheeses.
Oliver, who spent nearly four years at award-winning Moro before opening his own place, has always loved cooking with local, seasonal food. Something he traces back to a stint in Italy.
“After Uni I worked at my cousin’s art school where their kitchen was like a farmhouse kitchen. The produce was all local and seasonal and that just chimes for me when it comes to cooking. It tastes better and is healthier. At Moro we used lots of local produce but at Konstam I decided to take it one step further.”
Experience, however, has taught him not to be overly prescriptive with his criteria. “Foolishly, at first, I said only food from within the M25 and people started saying “Oh you can’t use that as it is just outside” and it got silly. Now our statement says “Konstam sources over 85% of its produce from in and around Greater London” which is much more flexible. This is cooking after all, not an Olympic sport. Salads, for example, can be difficult in winter and we do occasionally use some rocket from abroad,” he reveals.
And the idea of using local suppliers where possible certainly seems to be catching on. Earlier this year Chefs Mark Hix and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall cooked up a £1,000 a head fund- raising feast for the Soil Association with ingredients fished, foraged, pastured or up-rooted within a 50-mile radius of London.
“I can’t claim to have started the ball rolling - in England that is the way things used to be years ago after all - but we were the first with that USP and now more and more people are starting to see that local and seasonal is better,” declares Oliver.
2, Acton Street
London WC1X 9NA
Tel: 020 7833 5040
Other places in London where you can go green
10. Oarsman Rd
London N1 5QJ
Tel: 020 7033 0123
This new eco- friendly restaurant on the banks of the Regent’s Canal serves fresh seasonal organic produce and is run entirely on water- generated power. It is the second restaurant from the team behind Acorn House, 69, Swinton St , London,WC1X 9NT ( 0208 812 1842; www.acornhouserestaurant.com ) which offers “seasonal,sutainable,simple” food.
209, Westbourne Park Rd, London W11 1EA
Tel: 020 7243 9818
This organic brasserie and restaurant gives Notting Hill folk a taste of the country.
Duke of Cambridge
30, St Peter’s St, London N1 8JT
The world’s first certified organic gastro pub opened back in 1998 and has been collecting awards ever since.