Henry comes to Mayfair. He felt very much at home.
Allens of Mayfair is a game dealer as well as a butcher and is thought to supply quite a lot of London restaurants with their game including grouse.
I wonder whether this part of Mayfair is part of the 100 acres owned by the Duke of Westminster, owner of the Abbeystead grouse moor in the Forest of Bowland, which help to secure his position as the only British-born member of the top-10 of the Sunday Times Rich List (see Inglorious – conflict in the uplands pp64-65 (and also p104 and p188)).
As you may remember, I wrote to a number of London restaurants that sell grouse earlier in the year, trying to choose which one should get my custom.
This was my letter:
‘I am considering bringing a party of friends to your restaurant in the autumn as we would be interested in trying Red Grouse.
As I’m sure you know, Red Grouse are native British birds which are shot on moorlands in the autumn.
There are a number of issues about the sustainability of the production of grouse meat and so I am asking your views on them to help me make my choice of restaurant.
Legal issues: the Hen Harrier is illegally persecuted by grouse shooting interests. There should be 2600 pairs of Hen Harrier in the UK and there are only c800 pairs. Hardly any Hen Harriers nest successfully on land managed for grouse shooting. From which estates do you source your grouse meat and what steps have you taken to ensure the legality of their practices?
Land use issues: a major scientific study published by Leeds university (amongst other studies) suggests that the management of land for grouse shooting increases water pollution, reduces aquatic life, increases flood risk and increases greenhouse gas emissions. What is your response to that?
Lead levels in game meat: grouse are shot with lead shot. As the lead shot passes through the flesh of the grouse tiny particles of lead flake off the shot and distribute themselves in the meat that might end up in your restaurant and on my plate. Lead levels in game meat are high, and half of game meat bought in UK supermarkets and game dealers has lead levels that would be illegal in beef, pork, chicken etc. You may be aware of the strengthening of the Food Standards Agency advice on game meat? What steps have you taken to reduce lead levels in the grouse that you sell, eg have you asked your suppliers to move away from using lead shot and to use non-toxic ammunition instead? Have you warned your customers about lead levels in the meat that you serve them?
I’ll be interested to receive your response and compare it with other London restaurants. This letter will be posted on my blog, as will any response or lack of response from you.’
The letter went to several restaurants with Michelin stars including the 2-star restaurants of The Square and The Ledbury.
I received this reply, quite quickly actually, from, Philip Howard, the proprietor/chef of The Square (6-10 Bruton St, London W1J 6PU):
‘Your misleading, misinformed and downright deceitful email doing the rounds to London restaurants is one of the most pathetic attempts at extracting information from others, through the back door, I have ever witnessed.
I do, of course share your concerns on issues relating to the welfare of our native species and countryside at large.’
That’s a reply that speaks volumes for the customer care in a 2-star Michelin restaurant. It also looks like a reply from a chef who can’t answer questions about the quality of the food he serves to his customers, I feel. There is nothing deceitful about my email, and I’d be interested in exploring with Mr Howard how he feels it is either misleading or misinformed.
(127 Ledbury Road, London W11 2AQ) replied in a much more positive manner with promises of a chat – but the chat was cancelled and requests to reschedule have been ignored. Another interesting insight into the environmental and customer-care credentials of a ‘top’ London restaurant.
The Ledbury has won lots of plaudits for its food;
Michelin Guide 2014
Two Michelin Stars
San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2015
Observer Food Monthly Awards 2014
Best Restaurant in the UK
All in London Ultimate London Restaurant
2012, 2013 & 2014
Restaurant Magazine National Restaurant Awards
Best UK Restaurant 2010, 2011 & 2012
…but they seem unable and unwilling to talk about how its produced, where its produced, what steps they take to ensure the sustainability of their sources etc etc.
Opening the lid on the reluctance of ‘top’ London restaurants to tell their customers about the sourcing of their food is interesting. I am surprised that restaurants charging their customers large amounts of money are unable or unwilling to discuss their raw material – the food that we eat and they serve us.
This also says something about the British restaurant-going customer – clearly not many of us ask questions, or else restaurants would be better able to respond. It seems like both restaurants and customers too often have the approach, ‘Never mind the ethics just taste how yummy it is‘?
Henry tells me that he is looking forward to his first visit to the Bird Fair this weekend.
3 Replies to “Henry on a dark blue square”
Have you considered contacting the various leading food critics to ask what they think of things? I am thinking of the likes of Giles Coren, Jay Raynor and Mathew Forte. Maybe also ask the editors of food mags like the Waitrose food magazine?
Michelin Stars mean nothing these days Mark. I worked in the London fine dine industry for several years and it is riddled with deceit. All money and prestige rather than ethics.
Exactly what level of lead are we likely to find in grouse meat, how much above recommended limits? (I expect the answer is in ‘Inglorious ‘ which I shall buy at the Birdfair on Thursday, supporting, I hope, you, the fair and birds,).
Have these restaurants had a sample dish analysed by food standards people? Would the food ‘pass’? Can we ask the local council to check? How about the BBC? Would be interesting to see one of these restaurants on a prime time consumer programme, although I guess the Beeb is too worried about its relationship with the current government to risk that!
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