MARK TAYLOR heads to a ‘sustainable’ restaurant in Stokes Croft. It talks a good talk, but does it walk the walk? And, more importantly, is the food tasty? Photos by JASON INGRAM
How can you not fall in love with a restaurant that scribbles on its menu statements like ‘today your fish was caught aboard The Gillian and The Full Monty’?
The fish at Poco is supplied by Samways of Bridport, Dorset and is mostly caught around Lyme Bay using sustainable Marine Stewardship Council fishing methods. Apparently, the names of the boats that catch the fish are printed on the invoices sent to the kitchen. Now, that’s what I call leaving no pebble unturned when it comes to provenance and traceability!
And it’s not just the fish at Poco that comes with a story attached. The mantra at Tom Hunt’s Stokes Croft bar and restaurant is ‘90% British, 10% EU, 100% seasonal’, which is probably why it was awarded three gold stars by the Sustainable Restaurant Association, and why it is canvassing votes for this year’s ‘Best Ethical Restaurant’ in the Observer Food Monthly Awards. When I arrived at Poco, the huge chalkboard menu listed every single produce and supplier. The words ‘Today, your meal came from…’ were followed by a roll-call of notable local suppliers, like Severn Project, The Community Farm, Edible Futures, The Story Group and Powells of Olveston.
Poco started life as a festival café before setting up permanent camp in Bristol, but it retains a laidback vibe that is ideally suited to Stokes Croft. Tom Hunt’s mission is to track every ingredient to its source to assure its ethical procurement, and he’s almost there.
All the vegetables are bought from local, organic and community farms in the South West – the only exception being lemons from Italy. But this is no PR-driven greenwash job – Poco does exactly what is says on its recyclable, biodegradable tin. Whereas many places pluck soundbites like ‘local’, ‘free-range’ and ‘organic’ out of the air for their menus, Poco is the real deal. The chefs here only buy produce that is fairly traded, organic and local. They don’t use a fresh ingredient if it is not in season.
Okay, so the olive oil isn’t local – but it’s still painstakingly sourced from a Slow Food village in Teruel, Spain, where they burn the olive pips to power the village. (You couldn’t make it up.) Then there’s the organic chocolate from a small valley in Northern Peru. Discovered in 2007, it was nearly extinct and has since been replanted in an exemplary project of biodiversity.
And it’s not just the food that makes this one of the most ethical restaurants in the UK. The staff upcycle and recycle nearly everything, and if an item can’t be recycled they don’t buy it. They actually weigh the waste constantly, and by buying less packaging and composting produce, this has reduced what they bin to less than 1kg a day. (There are probably private households that produce more waste than that.)
Of course, none of this would really matter if the food wasn’t good – and it is. A new seasonal monthly tapas menu has a number of excellent dishes. There’s salt marsh lamb with sorrel sauce (£6); ceviche of line-caught pollock (£4.50); wild garlic soup with yoghurt and chives (£3.50); Dorset rock oysters with cider vinegar and red onion (£1.80); and pearl barley pilaf with honey, roots and Kentish cobnuts (£4.50). And just look at those prices – these dishes represent seriously good value for money.
New chef Adam Ashbourne arrived here last month, after cooking at Fishers in Clifton. He told me that he “couldn’t believe” the quality of the produce he was getting his hands on here.
I started with grilled asparagus and spring onions with homemade curd cheese (£5.90) – a delightful tangle of chargrilled, pencil-slim young vegetables topped with a scoop of creamy, tangy cheese. This was followed by slow roast mutton, cauliflower purée and walnut oil (£6.50) – the wise old lamb being shredded and crisped up to add a textural contrast to the silky pillow of purée.
And then came the roasted new season beetroot with spring onions and parsley (£3.20) – glossy, crimson crescents of earthy, sweet beetroot that had been roasted to retain a crunch.
A final course of Peruvian chocolate pot with clotted cream (£5) was intense and rich, although the Ivy House Farm cream actually added a surprising lightness.
A business that pledges to put ‘people and the planet before profit’, Poco is a unique eating experience and a fine role model. It’s a restaurant genuinely going the extra yard when it comes to reducing food miles.
Poco, 45 Jamaica Street, Bristol, BS2 8JP; 0117 923 2233; www.tomsfeast.com/restaurants/poco-bristol