Native restaurant, Southwark

A London Restaurant's Tasty Ways to Tackle Food Waste

When it comes to fighting food waste, the solutions are simple: eat local, more seasonally and don’t waste ingredients. It’s something the founders of Native restaurant, in Southwark, London, have been doing for years—with a big dollop of creativity thrown in.

Imogen Davis and Ivan Tisdall-Downes set up Native restaurant, in their original Neal’s Yard location in 2016, and set out to champion the highest-quality seasonal British ingredients—and try not to waste anything. Four years later, they are going from strength to strength and not only gaining a great reputation among foodies for their imaginative use of ingredients, but among the increasingly-environmentally aware citizens of today’s Climate Emergency world.

The menu is seasonal, down to the day, founder Imogen Davis tells me—something that has created some challenges, but is ultimately their raison d’etre. “We very much designed the menu based on seasonality, to the day. For example, if one of our suppliers, say a fishing boat that we use, doesn’t go out in a storm, then that will be reflected on the menu and we wouldn’t serve fish that day. Obviously, we could have sourced fish from further afield, but that defeats the object. The land takes the menu to us.” 

Imogen Davis, Native restaurant

Imogen Davis

Their signature dishes include ‘marrowmel’, a bone marrow and white chocolate caramel dessert set inside a marrow bone, and the pair have found other creative ways to make the most of their ingredients.

Trimmings are turned into ‘waste-free snacks’, creative little bites using up morsels that wouldn’t necessarily make it into the main dishes. These include fish trim toast with rhubarb hoisin and fermented potato waffles, made with potato trimmings, and served with chicken liver parfait. Carrot tops, usually relegated to the bin, gain a new life as a tasty tempura garnish atop their venison dish. “There is no need to throw them away and they add a good texture to the dish,” Davis tells me.

Neither Ivan or Imogen have classical training in the industry, so their growth is as organic as their ingredients. Davis grew up in rural Northamptonshire, as one of six children. “We were always outside. My parents had an organic farm shop and I grew up very much flexitarian, we would have meat once a week—usually on a Sunday. My dad’s famous quote was ‘use what we’ve got!’.”

Hunter-gathering and foraging is in Davis’s blood and that clearly translates into the restaurant. “Food for us, and still is, a focus for every single day. And we wanted to bring that ethos to the restaurant.” Initially self taught, Ivan went on to work for River Cottage HQ in Devon and the Michelin-starred Blue Hill Farm at Stone Barns in New York, developing his passion for natural, foraged and seasonal produce. 

The hospitality industry, according to Davis, is “one of the worst” for food waste. According to Wrap UK, it makes up 12 percent of the total UK food waste post-farm gate (for example, food that's never harvested due to cosmetic standards).

“The industry has to do a lot more. Seasonality shouldn’t just be a spring, summer, autumn, winter. The issue is [Native] don’t hold much weight over the big suppliers. The shift needs to come from the ones at the top, to force the hand of other people.” In terms of moving towards a zero-waste operation, the big names out there need to push for change among their suppliers, for example not use polystyrene boxes to deliver produce to force change in the industry. It’s a familiar story.

That's not to say that smaller, independent restaurants can’t make a difference. “Young chefs come to us, because they want to see the different way things are done and work somewhere that is having a good impact.” Customers can get more involved too, with their urban foraging events, followed by a three-course lunch where you can then enjoy your foraging finds.