easyJet Traveller

Estonian food: inspired by the dark arts

In 2003, Chef René Redzepi opened Noma, a Copenhagen restaurant that made headlines for its artfully plated morsels of seasonal, sustainable ingredients (at eyewatering prices). But, while Redzepi’s New Nordic style held the spotlight, winning the World’s Best Restaurant accolade four times between 2010 and 2014, a quieter food revolution was brewing across the Baltic Sea.

Estonia’s capital city Tallinn now has a fine-dining scene to compete with Copenhagen’s, thanks to a new generation of chefs seeking a homegrown culinary identity – via lake fish, foraged herbs, fermented berries and wild game from the forests that cover 90% of the country. Centuries-long occupation by neighbouring powers, including the Nazi and Soviet rulers of the 20th century, left Estonians with an amalgamated diet of sauerkraut, chicken kiev and herring. But the New Nordic food revolution in Denmark mirrored the way rural Estonians had always eaten, regardless of governing bodies. In recent years, those traditions of fermenting, smoking, foraging and hunting have been brought out of the woodwork – after decades, if not centuries, of neglect.

On 28 and 29 May, the Bocuse d’Or chef championships take place in Tallinn, marking the city’s initiation onto the culinary world stage. Here are the five restaurants that are pioneering the new wave of Estonian cooking, and the five sets of ingredients that have come to define their tastes.

From black garlic to billy goats, it’s a wild ride.

Foraged mushrooms at NOA Chef’s Hall

Named the number-one Baltic restaurant by the current White Guide to Nordic dining, this space – a 15-minute drive out of Tallinn proper – overlooks the sea through floor-to-ceiling windows and sets the scene for Estonia’s most ambitious fusion food. Head chef Orm Oja was born the year that the Soviet Union collapsed.

“The Danes invented Nordic cuisine when they started fermenting and foraging, but we had never lost sight of that culture in Estonia. When the Soviet era ended, there was a new freedom for chefs wanting to express themselves,” Oja says. “We forage. Even my little sister knows everything about mushrooms.”

Black garlic chocolate and smoking pine at Restoran Ö

In Tallinn city centre, one passionate and patriotic chef brings to the capital the flavours of the cold sea, dark forests, clean air and black soil of his native Saaremaa Island, off the west coast of Estonia.

“I only use 100% Estonian ingredients,” says Martin Meikas, whose experimental dishes use smoking pine cones to evoke the scent of the forest, and infuse chocolate with native black garlic. “I’m influenced by the history of our country, doing lots of fermenting and smoking. After the end of the Soviet Union, it was all, ‘Let’s make pasta, pizza, then fine dining, then street food’. Now we’ve done everything and everyone has calmed down, we’re going back to our roots.”

Summer berries (in winter) at Põhjaka Manor

This renovated manor house, an hour’s drive from Tallinn, was inspired by the Italian tradition of rural farmhouse restaurants, but has distinctly Estonian features. The cellar is packed with jars of preserved jams and pickles; outside, sheep graze and chickens scratch the ground between the herb garden and vegetable patch. In a small onsite distillery, gins are infused with rowan berries and sea buckthorn.

“In Estonia, we say we only have three months of bad skiing weather each year,” laughs co-owner Mart Metsallik. “It’s logical to cook seasonally and Estonians have always made preserves for the winter from things that are fresh in the summer. In fact, the Soviet times helped preserve that tradition, because we had nothing in the shops from the outside world.”

Rye bread at Leib

The highlight of this leafy spot on the edge of Tallinn Old Town isn’t its wonderfully fresh, seasonal, local ingredients, but its namesake: the black rye bread that comes with every dish and translates as leib. It’s the one constant in the everchanging seasonal menu.

“Rye bread has fed Estonians for nearly 10 centuries, which is why we proudly call it our national food,” says head chef Janno Lepik. “There are two kinds of black bread today. One of them is a sour rye bread, like ours, which is flavoured with different spices and seeds, and has a sour taste thanks to the fermented leaven. The other kind is considerably darker and sweeter in taste, which is due to the added sugar and malt.”

Whole goat’s head at Juur

All exposed brickwork and rustic ceramics, the swish dining room at Juur wouldn’t look amiss in Copenhagen – and head chef Kaido Metsa shares Danish trailblazer Rene Redzepi’s focus on the local and the sustainable, sourcing 90% of his ingredients from his own kitchen garden and the surrounding farms and forests. His signature dish comes from a nearby goat’s milk farm, for example.

“The male goats were useless to them,” says Metsa. “It doesn’t make sense to only use the best cuts of the animal when we have world hunger. I buy the male goats’ heads and we serve them with a story.”


The butchers and cheesemongers behind the plant-based revolution

Under shiny glass bell jars on the counter, mould-ripened camembert sits beside slabs of orange-hued cheddar. The east London shop has all the hallmarks of a traditional cheesemonger, from its walls lined with refrigerators to its lightly pungent scent. But there’s one major difference. Look closer at the labels and the camembert is spelt ‘Shamembert’; the blue-veined gorgonzola is labelled ‘Veganzola’. La Fauxmagerie is Europe’s first vegan cheesemonger, and no dairy has gone into the making of any of its products.

Veganism has gone mainstream in Western countries over the last few years, as proven by the surging popularity of plant-based meat replacements like The Impossible Burger and alternative milks made from soya, oat and coconut. While these are becoming increasingly accessible in the mass market, a new wave of artisan makers are on the rise, appropriating traditionally meat- and dairy-based industries for a more environmentally conscious age.

At kebab shop Vöner in Berlin – the city with the largest Turkish population outside of Turkey – traditional-style doner ‘meat’ is made with wheat protein and served with classic pita bread and tahini. Plant-based ‘butcher’ shop No Bones sells protein-based ‘cuts’ in Sao Paolo, while Australia’s first vegan charcuterie shop, Suzy Spoon’s, opened in Sydney in November. The trend has inevitably swept the United States, with plant-based butchers thriving in MinnesotaCalifornia and North Carolina, to name a few.

What’s unusual is that many of the most successful of these innovators have roots in dairy or meat farming. One of La Fauxmagerie’s initial suppliers, Sumear Safdar-Robins, worked as a dairy cheesemaker near Bristol, UK, before deciding to apply the same traditional cheese-making skills to produce dairy-free cheese.

Amsterdam-based vegan cheesemaker Bran Vanstone – who blends nuts and tofu into versions of gorgonzola, ricotta and parmesan – spent every school holiday as a child working on his grandparents’ dairy farm in Devon, south-west England. It was that in-depth knowledge of the industry and its products – rather than a backlash against the dairy industry itself – that was the base his vegan cheese business, Willicroft, which he launched in 2018.

Cheesed off

But there’s been backlash from the other side. Though largely small-batch and independent, many plant-based producers come under fire from the farming industries to which they’re providing alternatives. La Fauxmagerie’s launch in 2018 courted controversy when dairy farmers sent the vegan cheesemonger a letter, claiming that using the word ‘cheese’ for dairy-free products went against EU legislation. But their attack didn’t dissuade co-owner Charlotte Stevens.

“We consider our products cheese,” she says. “Cheese is fermented fat, and our cheeses are made with the same probiotic and bacterial cultures used to make dairy cheese. It’s just that the fat we use comes from nuts and soybeans. But the white exterior of the Shamembert is exactly the same mould that grows on a camembert, aged in the same cave environment.”

Thanks to the shared process, the Shamembert’s flavour and texture is impressively close to that of its dairy inspiration, particularly when baked. Its almond and shea butter base, infused with truffle oil and begging to be dunked into with crusty bread, melts into the same shiny goo as a Normandy camembert.

Far from undermining the work of traditional farmers or converting everybody to veganism, Stevens is simply keen to provide a viable vegan alternative for cheese-loving flexitarians who are concerned about the environmental impact of agriculture.

“No one wants to attack farmers, but we can’t really escape the fact that animal agriculture is a big contributor to soil erosion and climate change,” she says. “When I became a vegan due to dairy intolerance, I didn’t feel like I could have a dinner party and put a supermarket vegan cheese on a cheeseboard. But with these artisan products, I can. If we can get 20% of every cheeseboard in the country to have a vegan option, we’ve done our job.”

Netherlands-based Jaap Korteweg has even bolder ambitions. A ninth-generation cattle farmer, he decided to become a vegetarian when he witnessed the mass culling of livestock during the swine fever and mad cow disease epidemics of the late 90s. He opened a butcher’s shop in The Hague as The Vegetarian Butcher, followed by a pop-up restaurant called De Vleesh Lobby (‘The Meat Lobby’), before creating a supermarket-ready range of vegetarian ‘meats’ made in a factory. The line was recently acquired by Unilever. His masterplan? To become the world’s biggest butcher – meat and plant-based combined.

“Factory farming is not sustainable,” he says. “We use the animals as machines. Welfare isn’t important and we eat too much meat for our health. The only reason we eat meat is because we like it.” With the help of chefs, scientists and other farming professionals, he set out to create realistic meat substitutes to rival the real thing. His What the Cluck ‘chicken’ pieces, Unbelievaballs ‘meatballs’ and vegetarian Holy Cow Burgers were all showcased at a vegetarian pop-up at nose-to-tail butcher’s shop Hill & Szrok, in east London last autumn. It wasn’t the only meat-centric business to try out plant proteins in the capital: Smithfield Market, the UK’s largest meat market, began selling vegan burgers shortly after, for the first time in its 800-year history.

Looking to the future

Despite some pushback from the old guard of meat production, all converts to plant-based alternatives agree that the current global culture of intensive farming can’t go on. Countless studies back up their argument: recent research by the journal Science shows that avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact. Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75%, yet currently, 86% of all land mammals are either livestock or humans. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of mass extinction of wildlife globally.

“Plant-based meat is seven times more sustainable than beef in terms of land, energy use and water,” claims Korteweg. So what’s next? Stevens believes that EU subsidies for meat and dairy farming will eventually have to come to an end, making the cost of meat skyrocket. As a consequence, plant-based alternatives will come into focus and become more financially accessible.

“Technology wise, vegan artisan products are currently being made by a couple of people doing experiments on a small-batch basis,” she says. “With investment, this would easily scale up. People worry about vegan products because the Amazon is being deforested for soy farms as well as cattle farms. But 80% of that soy goes towards animal feed. Now, soy is grown in the Netherlands and the first UK farm has just started to grow it.” It’s a sign of things to come: experts predict that by 2040, most ‘meat’ will either be lab-grown or plant-based, rather than produced by animals.

Ever ahead of the curve, Korteweg’s got a madcap idea up his sleeve. “I have a plan to make a cow from stainless steel, with four stomachs,” he grins. “I’ll make milk and cheese from grass – without using cows, but using the same process. I hope that within five years it’ll be on the market.”

If anything can be learnt from the ninth-generation farmer, it’s that farming – and humanity – is ever-adaptable. Seeking out these veggie innovators on your travels, whether in Berlin, Sydney or Minneapolis, is a great way to see how food culture is evolving across the globe – and to have a taste of things to come.


Is London the vegan capital of the world?

For the country with the most livestock in Africa, Ethiopia boasts curiously vegan-friendly cuisine. But it’s long been customary for Orthodox Tewahedo Christians to omit meat from their diet on Wednesdays and Fridays – something that the West cottoned onto in recent decades, with campaigns such as Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney’s Meat Free Monday. London has just been voted the world’s most vegan-friendly city by online vegan restaurant guide HappyCow, with 152 meat- and dairy-free eateries, including a family-run Ethiopian canteen. Here’s five of the best.

The Ethiopian bargain: Andu Cafe

Any Londoner will point you in the direction of Dalston for plant-based grub. The east London district’s main thoroughfare, Kingsland Road, is packed with veg-centric diners from a deep-fried jackfruit joint to the new outpost of Soho spot Mildreds. But there’s one unassuming, cash-only canteen that set up shop here long before vegan eating became a hipster trend.

“I came to London from Addis Ababa in 1970, and the city was missing Ethiopian food,” says Andu Cafe’s owner, Andu Alam. “We opened the UK’s first vegan Ethiopian restaurant. At first it wasn’t that busy, but since vegan food has taken off it’s gained popularity. Now people come from all over the UK and beyond.”

It’s easy to see why. Sitting at a wicker chair, surrounded by carved wooden figurines and faded photos on the lime-green walls, feels like being in a friend’s living room. And the food couldn’t get any homelier: brought out quickly on platters bearing six dishes each, it’s a warming antidote to the harsh winter outside. Alam’s yemisir wot (lentil stew) is his crowning glory. Smoky, oily and rich in tomato, it’s got just enough of a kick to ward off a cold, and its smooth texture complements the crunch of the accompanying cabbage and beans. It’s all mopped up with a tangy injera flatbread and followed by jebena-served coffee to keep you warm for the rest of the night.

The veggie pioneer: The Gate

Red buses trundle past the ceiling-high windows of the bright dining room, where a shiny, glazed aubergine waits on a polished wooden table. Sliced in half, it drips with a sticky sauce of miso paste, sugar and soy. The knife slides smoothly through its roasted flesh and each bite crunches with a garnish of toasted cashew nuts and sesame seeds.

At vegetarian fine-dining spot The Gate – which launched in Hammersmith in 1989 and was followed by three more London openings – aubergine replaces meat. “Another of our classic Gate dishes is aubergine ‘schnitzel’,” says owner Michael Daniel. “But although we live in a world where everything gets compared to meat, vegetarian ‘meatballs’ are not meatballs – they’re lentil balls, or something different.”

Daniel’s mainly vegan menu pre-dates and avoids the current craze for meat replacements, letting seasonal, local vegetables shine on their own merits. Artfully plated South- and East-Asian inflections spice up foraged mushrooms, baby artichokes and raw beetroot.

“Plant-based has gone mainstream, and it’s very exciting,” says Daniel. “Nowadays, we see people in the restaurant we wouldn’t expect – groups of guys, and people who are open to just trying vegan once in a while.”

The insta paradise: Kalifornia Kitchen

“Healthy is sexy!” proclaims Tottenham Court Road’s latest plant-based eatery on Instagram. The Barbie-pink eatery seems tailored for the social media generation. The youthful clientele is equally photo-ready, sipping on quinoa, strawberry and coconut milk smoothies and nibbling on CBD granola on banana pancakes, in between photoshoots on the fuchsia spiral staircase.

But there’s substance behind the fashionable facade. Many diners head to Kalifornia Kitchen for a Moving Mountains burger, one of the most convincing mock-meat products on the market. Made from oyster mushrooms, vitamin B12, wheat proteins and coconut oil, the patty also contains beetroot juice which makes it “bleed” in the middle.

“The environmental impact of animal agriculture is becoming catastrophic,” says Moving Mountains’ Simeon Van der Molen. “Plant-based meat requires less land, less water and produces less greenhouse emissions than animal meat.”

The one for dessert: by CHLOE

Vegan cakes get a bad rap: traditional bakers have long complained that replacing eggs and butter with coconut oil and soy milk leads to heavy, dry results. Those prejudices can be left at the door of by CHLOE, which arrived from New York City in Covent Garden in 2017, with its menu of fast-casual burgers, sandwiches and salads, and the most un-vegan-tasting vegan cakes on the market. Think sweet sponge topped with rich vanilla icing, dotted with cocoa nibs and raspberries; air-light blueberry muffins tinged green with matcha; silky, red velvet cupcakes smeared with shocking-pink icing.

The interior is Instagrammable and millennial-friendly, with wicker chairs swinging from the ceiling and recyclable plates and cutlery. The sweet stuff here should be good: Californian founder Chloe Coscarelli made her name as the first vegan chef to win the USA’s Food Network’s Cupcake Wars in 2010.

The Michelin-starred treat: Pied à Terre

In Fitzrovia, the restaurant-packed pocket just north of Oxford Street, the roster of food businesses is in near-constant flux. But Pied à Terre is not only one of the area’s longest-standing restaurants, it also boasts one of London’s longest-held Michelin stars, awarded in 1993, two years after opening. Thanks to founder David Moore’s determination to be ahead of the curve, you can forget the starched tablecloths and haughty service usually associated with Michelin-starred dining rooms. Here, pendant lamps cast dappled light over leather booths and teal velvet chairs.

But it’s the restaurant’s 10-course vegan tasting menu, launched almost three years ago with the appointment of head chef Asimakis Chaniotis, that’s kept it modern. The delicate tasters of spelt risotto, coconut cream “cheese” and zesty lime sorbet are a far cry from the meat-focused kitchen of the 90s, where the chefs would scrabble to find a plant-based alternative on the fly.

“Nowadays, out of 45 covers, 20 of them could be on the vegan menu,” says Moore. “Over the next five or 10 years we are all going to eat much less meat. It’ll be like when we stopped smoking on buses or planes. Your kids will say to you, ‘Did you really eat meat twice a day?’”

The Independent

A ‘new’ new Nordic food tour of Tallinn

On the stripped-pine table before me sits a glass bell jar. Chef Kaido Metsa lifts it and a cloud of wood smoke pours out to reveal a thick slice of almost-translucent raw white fish, topped with horseradish ice cream, pickled morel mushrooms and a scattering of foraged leaves.  

I’m at Restaurant JUUR, near Tallinn’s Unesco World Heritage centre. Until a few years ago, fine dining was an alien concept in the small EU country bordered by Latvia, Russia and the Baltic Sea. Centuries of occupation by Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Russia – not to mention the Nazi and then Soviet Union rules of the 20th century – left Estonians with a diet of sauerkraut, rye bread and herring, an amalgamation of its neighbours’ cuisines. 

But a new generation of chefs is spearheading an emerging food revolution in the capital and beyond, turning to the thick forest that covers 90 per cent of the country to forage for ramson berries, wild mushrooms and pine cones to be fermented and pickled just as their ancestors always did – regardless of occupying powers.   

Beautifully plated and served in a Scandi-inspired space that’s all exposed brickwork and filament bulbs, the food at JUUR seems a clear nod to New Nordic cuisine – a Copenhagen-led movement led by Noma chef Rene Redzepi and characterised by immaculate presentation, foraged ingredients and a sustainable ethos. But at €60 for six courses, two-year-old JUUR offers a level of fine dining that’s not only radical in Estonia, but far more affordable than its Nordic counterparts – roughly five times cheaper than a meal at its Copenhagen counterpart.

“Salaries are low here but we’re getting more modernised and eating out more,” says Metsa, who grows vegetables, hand-makes crockery on a pottery wheel and sources 90 per cent of his ingredients within the border, advocating old-school methods as a way to celebrate Estonian food traditions. 

“In the old times there weren’t refrigerators, Estonians had to cure or dry fish and meat,” he says. “Fermenting is the natural way of preserving. In the spring and autumn we gather berries and herbs and cure, dry and ferment them to use in the winter period.” Unlike in Germany or Denmark, these traditions never died down in Estonia. Cellars are still stocked with jams and pickles, and on crisp autumn days, cars line the forest edge where good mushrooms are known to grow.

But until recently, Metsa’s passion for his nation’s food culture wasn’t widely shared.

“Ten years ago, Estonians weren’t proud of their produce,” says Märt Metsallik, co-founder of countryside restaurant Põhjaka Manor, an hour’s drive from Tallinn. 

“We were such a young nation and we’d been so cut off from the world, that these colourful, imported ingredients were fascinating for us. The mindset was that everything from Estonia was bad. I didn’t think so.” 

With two friends, Metsallik renovated the 19th-century manor house and opened it as Estonia’s first countryside restaurant in 2010. Today, the restaurant is thriving and everything but spices and citrus fruits is sourced in Estonia, delivered by specialist farmers or grown in the kitchen garden. As for meat, much of it is game bought from local hunters controlling the populations of wild boar, elk and deer. Not only is it an ethical priority for Metsallik to support local producers (despite the sometimes-elevated cost), it’s a way to realign with the land of his ancestors, whose culinary traditions survived despite the political turmoil of the 20th century. 

“The Russian and Soviet times helped preserve our traditions of foraging and preserving because there was nothing in the shops from outside Estonia,” he suggests. “You didn’t have this variety, so people made things themselves.”

Back in Tallinn, there’s one chef managing to use 100 per cent Estonian produce while stamping out the stereotype of bland Baltic food for good.

“There’s a lot to be foraged and found if you know what you’re doing,” says Martin Meikas, head chef at Restoran Ö, who relishes the creative challenge of cooking seasonally. “Cooking isn’t frying a scallop and putting some caviar on top. Anyone can do that. Cooking is inventing, taking a cabbage and making it the best it can be. Everything on this menu, you have never seen or tasted before.”

The €76 euro, 11-course tasting menu spans potato black pudding with hay-smoked cream; marinated eel with leek-infused oil, pureed artichoke and seaweed paste; beetroot-glazed goat’s curd and black garlic-infused chocolate. It’s Estonian to the core and, true to Meikas’s word, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

A 15-minute drive from the centre is seafront restaurant Noa, where €14 main courses demonstrate better than anywhere the affordability of fine dining in Tallinn.

“Ten years ago, Estonian cuisine didn’t exist,” claims executive chef Orm Oja, who at 27 years old was born the same year that the Soviet Union collapsed.

“Under Soviet control, restaurants had such strict rules – a chicken Kiev had to weigh 128 grams,” he says. “When the borders opened, people started to travel and experience new things, and chefs came here too.” 

Oja’s menu best reflects the cultural exchange that independence brought, blending Asian techniques with home-grown ingredients: he even makes “Nordic Dim Sum” that wraps Peking duck mousse in sourdough batter. Noa’s Scandi-style dining room is modern and aspirational – not unlike its fusion menu. The chef’s dextrous approach makes it clear that the only Estonia he’s ever known is an independent one, unafraid to take influence from the outside world, while treating his entire homeland as a kitchen garden. 

One thing’s certain: with Estonia’s rising Rene Redzepis at the stove, there’s never been a more exciting time to eat there. And it’s only a matter of time before the prices rise to prove it.

Travel essentials

Getting there 

Wizz Air flies from London Luton to Tallinn from £30 return.

Staying there

The four-star Hotel Palace has been a fixture of Tallinn’s main square since 1937 and has an excellent on-site restaurant and pool. Doubles from £127 including breakfast.

More information


Magic mushrooms: the rise of the beer mushroom in Brussels

At the end of the warren of dimly lit tunnels is an opaque, plastic-sheet doorway. Easing it open, I step into the cool, humid greenhouse beyond. Above my head, a nozzle sprays mist into the air that’s already clouded with condensation. On metal shelves, lined out in rows, are rock-sized lumps of a spongy, brown-coloured substance, with a dense white fungus spreading over their surface. Thick-stemmed, earth-brown mushrooms protrude out, clinging to the edge as they sprawl into clusters, some as big as my fist. A man dressed in plastic protective clothing takes hold of one of the largest, and slices through its meaty stem with a knife, placing the harvested fungi in to a crate.

The whole scene has the air of an alien autopsy about it. “Mushrooms are one of the most mysterious living organisms,” agrees biologist Sylvère Heuzé, who fell for fungi when he encountered rural mushroom growers during his study abroad in Mexico. He’s one of four core members of staff at Le Champignon de Bruxelles, a specialist urban mushroom farm that was set up in 2014 and is based in the Caves de Cureghem: the cool cellars beneath a fruit and vegetable market-cum-abattoir in the Anderlecht district of Brussels. Originally built in the 19th century as foundations to support a livestock market upstairs, the cellars were repurposed to cultivate mushrooms in the early 20th century, before being converted into an occasional events space since the 1990s.

The start-up has colonised 1,000 square metres of the brick-roofed, underground alcoves, and each week produces a tonne of specialist, organic mushrooms to be delivered to the chefs and organic grocery stores of the capital. But these fungi are special for a reason other than plugging a gap in the market for shiitake, maitake and nameko mushrooms (which are almost impossible to buy elsewhere for a reasonable price). They’ve been cultivated on a waste product that comes from the most Belgian of industries: beer.

“I wanted to grow shiitake mushrooms because I knew there was a market for them here, and I began experimenting growing them on coffee waste first, in 2014,” says CEO Hadrien Velge, a trained economist with a specialist interest in social enterprises. “But I found it didn’t work very well, and there was already another producer in Brussels growing oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds. That’s when I thought of using beer waste – there’s a lot of it in and around Brussels and I’d heard that it could be used as a substrate for mushrooms. I realised quickly that it was much more effective than coffee waste, and no big producers were using it.”

It was at that point that bio-engineer Thibault Fastenakels joined the team, with the task to build the Cureghem cellar farm, which the small enterprise expanded into in 2016. Fastenakels, like Heuzé, is a fungus fanatic on a mission to bring the science and manual joy of agriculture to the inner city. “Mushrooms can grow on a lot of stuff that could generally be considered as waste,” he explains. “I like that we can produce a lot on a small area, in comparison with salad or potatoes, which need thousands of square metres. It’s interesting in an urban area.”

These aren’t the only Cureghem-based entrepreneurs with a passion for urban agriculture. On the roof of the same building is BIGH, Europe’s largest urban rooftop farm, where cherry tomatoes, basil, parsley, kale and more are lovingly grown, packaged and sold to supermarkets including Carrefour. And in Belgium, there’s a growing appetite for organic produce. Up to 90% of Belgians buy an organic product at least once a year, and the consumption of organic food increased by 6% between 2016 and 2017. In the midst of the growing global conversation on food sustainability, Velge and his three other ‘musketeers’ chose the perfect moment to launch their food-from-waste endeavour.

So how exactly are mushrooms grown from beer waste? On a tour of the facility, head of communications Quentin Declerck explains that only 10% of the ingredients used to make beer end up in your pint glass – and the waste product they use, called bierbostel, is the damp, protein-rich grain left over once the beer has been filtered. It makes an ideal breeding ground for mycelium fungus bacteria to grow on. The first hurdle, however, is finding an organic brewery to work with that can tie in with Le Champignon de Bruxelles’ pesticide-free ethos.

“It’s hard to find organic beer, because brewers have difficulties finding organic barley,” reveals Declerck. “We work with Cantillon, which is close to here and has a specific way of making gueuze [lambic] beer. They don’t put artificial yeast in it; instead they leave their vats open to the air and use the natural yeast from the building, which drops down and colonises the beer. It gives the beer its acidic flavour, and it’s organic.”

One of Le Champignon de Bruxelles’ 12 employees collects the bierbostel on a bicycle and brings it to the Cureghem HQ, where it’s pasteurised by heating it to 90°C for four to five hours. “Pasteurising keeps the good bacteria and kills the bad ones,” says Declerck. Then, the substrate is divided into plastic bags, the mushroom mycelium is added, and it’s incubated at 22°C for two to three months. During this time, the fungus colonises the beer substrate, producing heat and condensation that drips down the bag’s interior. “It’s 90% humidity in the bag,” explains Declerck. “The mushrooms are breathing, taking in oxygen and giving out CO2, which is why we have 20 kinds of microgreens growing here, too, which need CO2.” He gestures at some LED-lit shelves of herbs and spices – mini coriander and purple radish sprouts, as well as some specialist varieties like Japanese basil, to be sold directly to chefs. It’s a secondary part of the business, but vital to its philosophy of turning every waste product into a resource. The microgreens also provide a supplementary source of summer income, when mushroom sales are lower.

Once the mycelium has colonised the entire block of substrate, the plastic bags are burst open and the substrate is transferred from ‘summer’ weather in the hot incubation room to the cooler, autumnal greenhouse, where the temperature sits between 11°C and 15°C – the perfect climate for mushrooms to reproduce in. “Shiitake mushrooms stay in the greenhouse for just one week,” says Declerck. “Just opening the bag gives them a lot of oxygen, and they reproduce like crazy, by growing mushrooms. Once we’ve harvested them, we put the substrate into compost.” As for the mushrooms, they’re boxed up (using non-plastic packaging wherever possible) and sold immediately, always just a day or two old by the time they reach the shelves or a restaurant plate.

Stepping out of the misty autopsy room, I’m met by the welcome scent of frying mushrooms. Declerck sloshes thick soy sauce over the sliced shiitakes and lets them caramelise over a medium flame. He pours a glass of fluorescent-orange Cantillon beer and places it before me, alongside a small taster plate of soy-glazed shrooms. I dig in. The flesh is meaty and springy, while the flavour is deeply nutty and umami. As for the gueuze beer, it’s shockingly acidic – almost like a strong, UK West Country cider – and balances out the savoury mushrooms beautifully.

As we eat, I notice that the wall behind us displays a ‘circular economy’ chart, which shows how each waste product in the food industry can (and arguably should) be repurposed into a sustainable resource. “Here in the city, we have a lot of organic waste that can be used as a resource,” says Velge. “It’s a vehicle to produce food locally with the resources we have available, which I think is the most important thing right now.”

For Heuzé, growing mushrooms this way sets a perfect example for food sustainability solutions. “Mushrooms are a recycling organism,” he says. “In any part of the world, you will always have organic waste – a resource that is free, and in very big volume – that you can use to make mushrooms. It can be developed for food security. A little rice producer in Asia, for example, could have a secondary activity to make mushrooms. You don’t even need any technology – it can be as simple as adding water to straw.”

Their enthusiasm is infectious and is the backbone of their cooperative setup. Fifty investors and co-op members have a say in every company decision made in these vaults. It’s an unusual approach, which works thanks to a common desire to help the enterprise thrive. So what’s next for Belgium’s subterranean mushroom men?

Declerck picks up a bag of substrate that’s incubating in a corner shelf, separate from the rest: an experiment. I peer closer, observe its rich-brown colour and detect a sweet, familiar scent.

“Cocoa beans,” says Heuzé with a huge grin. “They are from the chocolatiers in Brussels. It’s still in development but we’re hoping to grow mushrooms from it next year.” Mushrooms don’t get much more Belgian than that.


Meet the woman leading Belgium’s cocktail revolution

The first time mixologist Hannah Van Ongevalle worked as a bartender “was horrible,” says the craft cocktail champion. “I had a very strict manager who said, ‘you’re never going to be good enough to be a bartender. You have to work in the cloakroom.’ He was very wrong!”

We’re in a speakeasy named The Pharmacy in Knokke, an upmarket seaside town a couple of hour’s drive west of Brussels. Outside, the pale sun sparkles off the beach house’s white façade and the North Sea – but step through the red, unmarked door and you’re met with a cosy warren of wood-panelled corners and velvet furnishings, glowing in lamplight. From each nook and cranny looms an antiquated piece of décor: a taxidermy peacock, a blood-red Chinese lantern, a tobacco-stained clock.

Before me is a concoction named Rudolph, poured with perfectly amber whisky, infused with orange peel and nuts and served in a triangular glass over a charred pile of cinnamon sticks, dried chili and star anise. As I take a sip, a subtle waft of smoke engulfs the glass and adds a wintry, bonfire-night aroma to the already-smoky drink.

This clandestine place won Belgium’s Best Cocktail Bar award shortly after it opened in 2014, and is followed by a new sister bar in Antwerp, which opened this January (with a similarly 1920s-esque interior, in a cavernous space above restaurant Danieli Il Divino). At both, precision is key to the cocktail-making artistry. Drinks at The Pharmacy can take months to design. They’re beautifully balanced, simply presented, and are finished off with details like an edible flower garnish and singular ice cube and minimally encased in ornate crystal.

Van Ongevalle was the first woman to win the Diageo World Class Belgian Finals, a prestigious cocktail-making contest that led her to the global finals. But her journey to mixologist stardom wasn’t one she took alone. Cocktail crafting flows through the veins of the Van Ongevalle family – Hannah’s younger brother Ran was crowned Best Belgian Bartender in 2014 and was the first Belgian to win a Bacardi Legacy Global award. He’s now based at Artesian, at London hotel The Langham – named the world’s best bar between 2011 and 2015. Back in Knokke, the youngest of the three siblings, Noa, is managing The Pharmacy for her father, Jan, who founded it with Hannah five years ago.

They’re an energetic, eclectic bunch, boasting 50 tattoos between them – Jan and Ran roll up their sleeves to reveal a cocktail stirrer inked on the forearm – and their passion is palpable. The bar shelves groan with Mexican mescals and Japanese whiskies sourced from afar, and unavailable anywhere else in Belgium. And the clan is more than willing to dip into their own supply at the first whiff of a family gathering. Alongside a handful of other bars in Antwerp and Ghent, the family is at the forefront of a growing culture of Belgian mixology.

Over the course of an afternoon with the Van Ongevalles, it becomes clear that ambition is as much a common denominator among the family as their love of an expertly mixed drink. “I wanted to win an Oscar by age 14,” says Hannah. It was her thespian-side that led her to her true calling.

“I was always a very creative child and needed an outlet, so my parents let me go to LA by myself at 14,” she says. “I didn’t get any auditions, but it was life changing. I came back thinking that everything is possible if I work hard.”

Hannah studied in London, then did her stint in the Belgian nightclub cloakroom before working her way into fashion in Paris, Amsterdam, and Nice. It was there that, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. Hannah’s French partner Guillaume was involved in a road accident that left him hospitalised for six months. “I went from trying to find my way to extreme survival mode,” Hannah says. Her father Jan had since become bar manager at the Knokke Casino, and offered her flexible work so she could frequently travel back to France. It was in those circumstances that she began to make cocktails.

A few months later, Hannah received a phone call that would change her life. “My dad said, ‘I want to open a bar. Do you want to join me? You have 24 hours to decide’,” Hannah remembers with a laugh. “My dad does everything in a rush.”

Six weeks later, The Pharmacy was born. Within seven months, Jan was encouraging Hannah to enter the Diageo World Class contest, despite her relative inexperience. “It was the first time a woman had competed, and I arrived pulling my suitcase in my heels,” says Hannah. “The other bartenders were like, ‘that’s so cute, is your boyfriend entering the competition?’ I said, ‘no, I am, and I’m going to be great’.”

Fortuitously, the theme of the first stage was Stars and The Theatrical – and Hannah caught the judges’ eye with a Cabaret-inspired performance. But it was her gastronomy-led approach that sealed the deal.

“For the second stage we had to buy ingredients from the market, so I thought, ‘if I want to win I need to do something a bit shocking’,” Hannah grins. “I bought an aged, greasy ham and put it in the shaker. Everyone was staring. Even my dad was mouthing at me, ‘no!’ But I presented it to them with a card trick, and slowly everyone started standing up and clapping.”

It won her the Belgian stage and cemented Hannah’s chef-inspired style. She believes that Belgium’s increasing interest in cocktail culture correlates with a renewed interest in food culture (a phenomenon she’s seen in London, Paris and New York, too).

“When my dad moved from fashion to bartending seven years ago, bars that had a couple of cocktails on the menu were seen as cocktail bars,” she says. “But now, people are more aware of what they’re eating and drinking, even in their own homes – with the gin and tonic craze, and TV shows like Come Dine With Me [or Komen Eten in Belgium].”

Hannah’s also been inspired by her travels since 2014, judging competitions and consulting in Mauritius, Martinique and Thailand, and working with local flavours that reflect her immediate surroundings, including chocolate and beer. “We have a beautiful portfolio of ingredients in Belgium,” she enthuses. “We have herbs growing in the dunes in the Zwin and work with local businesses that go out and pick them. I work with things from the sea: seaweed, saline solution, sea salt. Salty drinks won’t become popular in Belgium anytime soon, but when they do, I’m ready with 1,000 recipes!”

As a food-influenced mixologist, Hannah couldn’t be much better placed in the world – there’s a grand total of 22 Michelin stars within a 25-km radius of Knokke. Local esteemed chef Willem Hiele, who owns a restaurant in the region, was the inspiration behind one cocktail on the menu that’s close to Hannah’s heart. “I tried a fish dish at his restaurant last summer, made with prune, elderflower, goat yoghurt and basil oil,” she says. “I took a bite, looked up at Guillaume and saw a tear roll down his face. We started laughing because we were both crying at how good it was.” She headed home with a stack of prunes from the kitchen garden, distilled them into a syrup and added Riesling, vermouth and basil. “We put it on the menu and called it the Willem.”

All the non-alcoholic ingredients in The Pharmacy’s cocktails are created either in Hannah’s kitchen or in a local laboratory, where younger sister Noa is increasingly spending her time, distilling local flavours into clear syrups bursting with life (her family fondly calls her their ‘little nutty professor’). Hannah has also just set up The Motel: a training school designed for chefs to take cocktail-making courses, with the goal of raising the bar of drinks available in Belgian restaurants.

As for Noa, she’s already designed a cocktail for a global campaign by Bombay Sapphire and, alongside her sister, makes a promising antidote to Belgium’s male-dominated world of bartending – managing an older, often-male team. “Sometimes it’s a bit hard, when they have to listen to a 20-year-old girl,” she says. “I’m quite strict and people don’t like it, but I have to be – for the sake of the bar. I even tell my dad what to do. But he does it. He’s a good listener.”

Jan insists that his wife, Heidy, is the glue that holds the family together. But it’s him who’s constantly in the eye of the storm, his exuberant children whirling around him in a flurry of amber liquids and gleaming glassware. He’s also their harshest critic, keeping them grounded even as they’re making history. “I never give Hannah’s cocktails more than a seven out of 10 and I didn’t even want to hire Noa,” he says. “She’d never had a job before and we thought she’d be a quitter. She started at the lowest place, cleaning in the kitchen. But she’s the hardest worker and now she’s irreplaceable.”

It is the family’s charming dynamic as much as its vision for innovation that makes a visit to The Pharmacy so memorable. And with plans in the pipeline for another branch to open at the end of the year, this is only the beginning.

N by Norwegian

Big green mountains: visiting the world’s greenest ski resort

At daybreak, from the gondola station in the LAAX ski resort, the distant lights of snow groomers can just be made out through the fog. The vehicles crawl up the slopes on the last leg of their night shift, striving to finish before throngs of winter sports enthusiasts arrive, piling 80 at a time into the gondola cars at the first sign of sunlight.

There’ll be fresh powder for these early birds, thanks to the yellow snow cannons that line the newly smoothed runs. These blowers, which resemble giant hair dryers, have been topping up the natural snowfall overnight, fed with water from a nearby man-made lake.

At first glance, neither groomers nor cannons seem particularly eco-friendly, but they’re working together in a way that makes this Swiss mountain resort a world leader for green initiatives.

“The drivers have a GPS system that indicates exactly how much extra snow is needed where,” explains Reto Fry, environmental officer for the local area. Eco-friendly, high-tech machines like these can work together to enable more efficient use of resources: a key tenet of his sustainable vision for the resort.

Fry has become an expert in efficient use of resources since spearheading LAAX’s think-global, act-local sustainability concept, Greenstyle, which he’s run single-handedly since it launched in 2010. The resort was one of the first Alpine destinations to respond to the growing idea that mountain resorts might not be good for the environment.

Around 120 million people visit the Alps each year, and a big part of the draw is the proximity to the vast beauty of mountainous nature. Yet mass tourism – added to melting glaciers, rising snow lines and increasingly unpredictable snowfalls – threatens to harm the very environment that visitors seek to connect with.

Some suggest that skiing itself is too impactful and we should put down our ski poles for good but this is a drastic solution and one that would be devastating for Alpine communities. Mountain tourism has been the saviour of tiny, cut-off villages all over the Alps, particularly in Switzerland, where almost 170,000 citizens are directly employed by a tourism industry that generates CHF46.7 billion (US$46.7bn) annually.

Instead, the challenge today is for tourists to pick resorts with an eco-conscious approach – and for resorts to prioritise that approach. “The most important three topics for today’s generation are climate change, energy consumption and biodiversity,” Fry explains. “So I set out a solid framework for what we want to achieve.”

It’s not the first time that LAAX has attempted to project its ambitions ahead of the curve. The area was once marketed as part of the traditional and wealthy nearby town of Flims, but was rebranded, along with its 224km of slopes, under the banner of LAAX in 1997, reimagining itself as an extreme sports destination. It now has a world-renowned snowboarding freestyle and off-piste scene, is home to the world’s biggest halfpipe, and is attracting more youthful visitors each year thanks to its mountaintop co-working spaces and “urban slopestyle”. The modern resort has an average visitor age of 38 – significantly lower than the middle-aged average elsewhere in the Alps.

Greenstyle was the next logical step – a dedicated focus on sustainability that would chime with its eco-savvy clientele. It’s not just lip-service. Since 2010, the resort has run on 100% renewable electricity, mostly hydropower and solar (non-sustainable fuels are still used for heating). Last year its rocksresort hotel was recognised as the World’s Best Green Ski Hotel. It even produces a range of natty bags made from its recycled marketing pamphlets.

Fry is now ready to take it up a notch, recently proclaiming the plan to become carbon neutral and self-sufficient by 2030. To accomplish this feat, he’s divided his targets into seven focus areas: energy, zero waste, water, transportation, food and purchasing, biodiversity and communication. “Because of our renewable energy and energy efficiency strategy, I can now say that 100% renewable energy by 2023 in LAAX is totally possible,” he says. “We’re installing heating systems that run on biomass pellets and we’re planning to build a wind farm on a glacier.”

Fry’s food waste target feeds into the strategy, too. “We’ve set a goal to reduce residual waste by half, mainly through plastic recycling,” he explains. “We’re encouraging people to use reusable coffee cups and food waste is made into biogas.” As well as encouraging chefs to use local, seasonal and organic produce, the resort has invested in an automated food-waste management system called Kitro. In use at the Riders restaurant, a bin is fitted with a scale and a camera that photographs food waste each time more than 30g is deposited and sends reports back to the kitchen.

Other ongoing initiatives include providing electric-car charging stations and free bus shuttles; building roof gardens to create habitats for wild butterflies and bees; and recycling water so that mountain-fresh spring water is no longer used for sanitation as well as drinking – 7.5 million litres have already been saved since 2010 through new efficiency measures.

These ideas aren’t unique to LAAX: Chamonix has set its own target to reduce carbon emissions by 20% by 2020, while Villars, towards the Swiss border with France, has installed hybrid buses and solar panels. For Fry, it’s not about creating competition with other resorts but working together and taking inspiration from similar resorts’ initiatives. “I’m convinced that it’s possible to solve lots of our problems.”

Although he recognises there’s much work still to be done, he feels positive he can achieve his goals. “I have a family. I want to commit to their future. And the last year or two, I finally see the vision in my head coming together. Now, we just need to show others what we’re doing. We can’t influence everything but we can try to be a good example in the hope that others will join us on this path.”

The Wharf

Is it possible to live on just surplus food for a week?

In the UK, over 100,000 tonnes of edible food goes to waste every year. That’s 250 million meals in the bin.

One Swedish startup is on a mission to not only save surplus grub, but offer a business-minded solution to restaurateurs, too.

Having launched in Stockholm and migrated to London in February, the Karma app allows Londoners to buy high-quality food at a 50 per cent discount from over 400 local restaurants and other independent food retailers.

Consumers use the app to search for or receive push notifications for surplus food throughout the day – cafes and restaurants generally sell food they haven’t shifted towards the end of their breakfast, lunch or dinner service – then reserve it, pay via the app and collect within a set time.

And according to Head of UK Grocery Steffie Clement, it’s not just consumers (and landfill sites) that benefit from the concept.

“The thing with Karma is that you’re targeting new customers,” she says. “People who haven’t yet come through the door. And you’re guaranteeing a sale from them. Plus, it’s not just a deals app, it’s specifically targeted at food that would otherwise be wasted. It’s environmental, but it’s profit driving, so you can bring in revenue.

“With all the big chain closures in the restaurant industry this year, margins are really tight, so something that’s revenue saving and also reaches out to new and different customers can work really well for food businesses.”

While independents have been the first to sign up to Karma, chains are increasingly looking for innovative, digital solutions to their food waste, too – so Canary Wharf is rich with potential business opportunities for the startup.

“There’s a 24-hour work culture here as well,” Steffie notes. “People might be working on international schedules, they might want to grab breakfast at 11, lunch at 3. And it’s incredible what the Canary Wharf Group is doing, around single use plastic and showing that they’re motivating businesses around here.

“If Karma could be one of the solutions they use to reach zero edible food waste, alongside their recycling and other things, that could be great.”

I agree – so I set myself the challenge of eating only surplus Karma food for one working week, to evaluate its offerings, and potential, on the estate.


I get brunch from 640East, a cafe in shipping containers on Montgomery Square: an avocado, mozzarella and tomato bagel. It’s half price at £2.25 and even though I enjoy it, I wouldn’t have bought it for £4.50.

I have the app open from 5pm, an hour before I finish work, keeping an eye out for a dinner to rescue but only one place has anything available – CPress, a health-foods and cold-press juice bar on Crossrail Walk. So at 6pm I buy what I can: two chia pots, some turmeric hummus, two side orders of roast vegetables and two G-Force ‘immune-boosting’ juice shots. It comes to £9.94 but isn’t enough for dinner for me and my partner.

I save my CPress items for tomorrow and we tuck into some lamb jalfrezi left over from the weekend.

My take: I’m concerned about the lack of options in Canary Wharf, as I failed to get through day one on just surplus food.

Steffie’s take: “There’s a lucky draw aspect – because it is genuine surplus food, what’s available can be unpredictable. That’s where we’re hoping to get more retailers on board – sometimes when it’s smaller and more niche food businesses, it can be about buying smaller ingredients to add to your meal, or to eat as a starter.”


I start the day with a G-force shot and a blueberry and granola chia pot. The ginger-infused juice is unpleasantly bitter, but the chia pot is crunchy, sweet and healthy-tasting.

For lunch I microwave the roast vegetable pots and plate them up with the hummus and some falafel that I had in the fridge. It’s a tasty, healthy lunch but the surplus food needed boosting with other things to make up a full meal.

I’m in Shoreditch that evening so I try out the app there – and am pleased to discover that the amount of restaurants signed up to the app skyrockets in comparison to Canary Wharf.

One catches my eye – Yuzu, a sushi restaurant in Spitalfields I’ve wanted to try for ages. I reserve three mixed boxes – spicy salmon and tuna, nigiri and yellowtail sashimi, and assorted maki – which come to £18.29, rather than £36.58 at full cost.

The waitress tells me that they fill boxes with whatever is left on the conveyor belt at the end of lunch, which seems like a no-brainer solution.

My take: A good use for the app is buying up lunches at the end of service to eat for lunch the following day – and it’s a great tool for discovering new restaurants. I would have paid full price for this meal, but getting it for such a steal feels great.

Steffie’s take: “Foodies use it to discover new places and cuisines, without the hefty London price tag. And they get to take proactive social action on an issue they feel passionate about – putting their money where their mouth is, showing that surplus food can be really good.”


For lunch, there are only two 640East bagels available, so I go for a bacon and avocado one.

By the end of the working day it’s slim pickings on the app. I’m about to give up hope on finding a Karma dinner in Canary Wharf when I get a push notification from Island Poke – result.

I get a salmon poke bowl crammed with rice, seaweed, fresh red chili, avocado chunks and raw salmon for £4.95 – a bargain for a big portion that would normally cost £8.85.

My take: If you’re a fussy eater you could run into some issues with this app. The poke bowl came with a pre-selection of toppings, rather than allowing me to choose my own. But if you’re keen to expand your food horizons, this is the way to do it.

Steffie’s take: “You can live in London for so many years and not discover all the food and different dishes that are available. What’s good about the app is that it’s really visual, it’ll usually have a really nice picture and you can favourite places that you like and follow them in the way you would on social media.”


Throughout the day, only 640East bagels and CPress juices are available. I wait for the evening, when I reserve two butter chicken and kashmiri lamb curries from Indi-Go in Old Spitalfields Market – enough for dinner and lunch tomorrow, for myself and my partner.

Having never been to Indi-Go before it’s a bit of a pain to track down with some iffy Google Maps directions. But the butter chicken, stewed in tomato and coconut, is gorgeous.

My take: At £4.25 each it feels like we indulged in a takeaway, but without having spent outside of our budget and while feeling good about rescuing it.

Steffie’s take: “People are shopping more ethically and even caring more about waste solutions than price. So attracting ethically minded customers is important to businesses.”


I round off the week with pastries and cake from Taylor St Baristas – an Antipodean cafe with a branch in Harbour Exchange Square. As well as steaming some of London’s finest flat whites, it’s selling half-price Anzac biscuits, croissants, orange cake and Guiness chocolate cake on Karma. I get six items for £6.42.

The oaty Anzacs are the best I’ve found in the northern hemisphere, and the Guiness-steeped chocolate cake might be the best I’ve ever tasted.

My take: The app has led me to discover some delicious treats I might never have ordered otherwise.

Steffie’s take: “The value businesses get from Karma is the upsell. You might buy a reduced-price croissant via the app but then get a coffee at full price. Our research shows that customers brought in by Karma then return later down the line as full-paying customers.”

The verdict

By the end of the week, I’ve spent £61 and rescued 23 surplus food items – a total of 4.6kg.

I’ve discovered a couple of awesome restaurants and can smugly say I’ve done a little bit to reduce food waste this week. The app has been incredibly easy to use, and I have every intention to use it again.

But it’s clear that the majority of Canary Wharf’s restaurants haven’t jumped on the Karma bandwagon yet, which is a shame.

While the app is designed for saving surplus food, for users it operates a bit more like a cheap deliveroo (albeit one that doesn’t deliver) – rightly or wrongly, each time I click open the app, I’m hoping for the choice found on mainstream food ordering apps.

“Karma needs to grow in Canary Wharf, and it’s on us to let more businesses know,” says Steffie. “It hinges on a varied demand and a rich supply. But the businesses that have used Karma really love it.

“They’re prompted to act and take on these initiatives from customers, so if you see a cafe throwing away a load of pastries at the end of the day, ask them about their sustainability process, or if they’ve heard of Karma, or let us know and we can get in touch with them.”

Fancy more cheap and ethical takeaways on the Canary Wharf estate? You know what to do.


In good taste: how to eat at Eurovision 2018

I’ve come to the Portuguese capital on a pilgrimage: to worship at the altar of Pastéis de Belém, maker of the city’s original native custard tart, pastel de nata. Following a secret recipe that dates back to 1837, it’s been passed down through five generations since and is so fiercely coveted that only three chefs in the world know the ingredients – the same chefs churning out thousands of the cups of creamy heavenliness each day to disciples like myself.

But when I touch down, stormy weather has closed off the Belém district, to the west of the city centre – so my foodie odyssey starts closer in, at the Mercado da Ribeira. The Time Out-curated food market in the newly trendy Cais do Sodré quarter is a sunlit hive of Lisbon’s 40 top chefs offering budget versions of their wares. After a lap of the ground floor – a hall of long wooden tables crammed with diners tucking into bacalhau salted cod, octopus croquetes or handmade pizza, bought from the surrounding stands and sloshed back with a Super Bock lager – I find what I’m looking for. The stall from high-profile young chef Henrique Sá Pessoa is dishing out bifana sandwiches bursting open with thick, juicy slabs of suckling pig, glazed crackling crunching between meat juice-soaked bread.

“I love bifana with tender Alentejo pork fried in olive oil and garlic,” divulges Sá Pessoa. “You can marinate it in a traditional garlic, white wine and red pepper-paste sauce, but I play on the traditional recipe using different cuts of pork, sauces and dressings.”

Before I know it, back at the Palacio Belmonte hotel – an intimate 10-suite palace, silent save for the coos of peacocks in the next-door São Jorge Castle – it’s dinnertime at its innovative on-site restaurant, Leopold. The tasting menu’s eight, deftly prepared courses combine native ingredients with ambitious craft: cured egg yolk sprinkled with crunchy buckwheat and three varieties of Algarve samphire; seaweed salad mopped up with sourdough bread smothered in ewe’s milk butter; an unusual dessert of puréed banana covered in cinnamon and flakes of tangy cheese. It’s a total game-changer.

I spend the next morning on a brisk, hilly walk to the Feira da Ladra – a sprawling flea market held since the 12th century in the Alfama district’s Campo Santa Clara square. Usually, I’d be drawn magpie-like to the secondhand jewellery, antique furnishings and vintage clothes laid out on blankets on the cobbles. But it’s nearing lunchtime and I’m gearing up to try another of Lisbon’s signature dishes: bacalhau cod. If there’s one place to do it, it’s A Casa do Bacalhau, where 90% of the menu is dedicated to the fish. Cod isn’t native to Portugal, but became a staple for the country’s navy in the 15th century during its exploration of Newfoundland. The Portuguese never looked back and there’s said to be a bacalhau recipe for every day of the year. I vow to try as many as I can.

The meal kick-starts with the restaurant’s renowned pataniscas fritters, which were named Lisbon’s best at 2017’s Fish and Flavours festival. They’re crisp and nongreasy, with large flakes of cod standing out from the egg, flour and parsley batter that they’re encased in. But the signature bacalhau à brás is the must-order item: a tower of shredded salt cod, onions and fried-potato matchsticks packed together with scrambled egg and topped with briny black olives. Hearty and flavoured by the sea, it’s no wonder that this is Lisbon’s soul food, originating in the ancient Bairro Alto quarter near the port. Now the city’s nightlife hub, it’s where I head at sundown.

I couldn’t go on a foodie pilgrimage to Lisbon without getting acquainted with José Avillez, whose Michelin-starred Belcanto restaurant is consistently rated among the city’s finest. But I’m at his more under-the-radar Beco Cabaret Gourmet, a 1920s-inspired speakeasy lit by low table lamps and with a mural of a topless Dita Von Teese on the brick wall behind the shiny bar. Everything is designed to appeal to the senses. “The pleasure of eating is similar to other pleasures of fun and entertainment,” Avillez explains to me. “You eat some courses with your hands: we bring sensuality into the menu, too.”

As performers parade between the tables, I feast on ox tail so tender it almost melts into its potato puree bed; the biggest prawn I’ve seen this side of the Atlantic, perched atop a creamy swirl of tagliatelle; and strips of bread dipped in a pot of rich, truffle-infused egg yolk. The show carries on until 2am, when we spill out onto the pavement to find the Bairro Alto is only just warming up.

The next morning, only one thing can clear away the cobwebs. With sunshine now bouncing off the houses’ terracotta roofs and white facades, nothing can stop me hopping on the tram to the white and blue-tiled Pastéis de Belém. It was worth the wait. The tart arrives warm, with a slightly runny, not-too-sweet custard filling poured into crisp, flaky pastry. I pop my head into the kitchen, keen to know more, and am shooed away. But belly-full once again, I leave Lisbon in a borderline ecstatic state. I don’t need to know the recipe to have faith – which is just as well.

easyJet Traveller

Soul food: social street food in Paris

The air in the crowded square is thick with the scent of spices. Children chase giant, rainbow-tinted bubbles in the sun, while hip-hop reverberates between a clutter of makeshift stalls and vintage trucks, all displaying their wares on handwritten signs: there are Moroccan lamb kofte pancakes, Senegalese chicken curries and Thai-marinated skewers, the occasional crêpe thrown in for good measure.

On the surface, this gathering outside an old warehouse at Halle Pajol, near Paris’s Gare du Nord, appears entirely unremarkable – after all, such markets have long been a firm fixture in the likes of London, Amsterdam and Berlin – but Street Popote (which roughly translates as ‘street grub’) is special for two reasons.

For a start, it was only last summer that the French capital welcomed its first ever food-truck event in the form of Le Food Market, in Belleville, which drew over 8,000 visitors to just 15 stands selling foods from 15 different countries. It proved that after years of grudging resistance, the French had finally succumbed and started to embrace the global phenomenon.

But such events are still something of a novelty here. “We are really brilliant at food, but we’re traditional and there’s always some reluctance to new things,” explains Lionel Guérin, founder of Street Popote. “But in the past few years, Paris has become much more dynamic and suddenly street food is exploding.”

Street Popote can claim to be the city’s second street-food event, but it is also doing something that goes way beyond simply giving Parisians the opportunity to eat global cuisines. Each stall has a social project attached to it, incorporating communities and cuisines that rarely figure in Paris’s somewhat elite restaurant scene.

“There are a lot of talented people here who don’t have the opportunity to express it,” says Guérin. “I want to draw attention to them – and if I can help to show how enriching and tasty cultural diversity really is, I can go to bed each night and sleep very well.”

Now let’s meet some of those talented people…

The business innovators

In the heart of the busy market, Street Popote’s largest stall is engulfed in a haze of smoke. It’s pouring out from a sizzling grill stacked with Thai chicken satay and Senegalese beef skewers, diligently watched over by young chefs Jiap and Nesta. Beside them, on a polka-dot tabletop, a salad of marinated fish and papaya is prepared by Crystelle, originally from the Central African Republic.

These women are entrepreneurs with plans to open restaurants and catering businesses, and they’re here thanks to Paris’s only state-subsidised kitchen incubator: Plaine de Saveurs.

In the north-eastern suburb of Saint Denis, the nonprofit provides space for aspiring chefs to trial recipes and gain business advice. Each ‘incubee’ uses the kitchen for six months at the cost of just €200 a month – about the same amount as renting a parking space in the city.

“In central Paris, the international restaurant offering is very poor – mainly just kebabs, pizza and sushi,” claims Bertrand Allombert, who launched the incubator programme back in 2013, “but there are 140 nationalities in Saint Denis alone. We try to work with people who don’t have enough money to invest in or sustain a business.”

As far as Allombert is concerned, creating a market – rather than competing with the types of cuisine that dominate the capital’s food scene – is good business sense, but it’s also a way of encouraging interaction between different local communities.

“When people eat each other’s food, they have a better cultural understanding,” he smiles. “Food is peace.”

The gourmet grannies

The nutty-sweet smell of browning butter catches in the breeze as Patricia Pastrana pours a ladle of batter into a frying pan. To her right is the crêpe filling responsible for the stall’s long queue – salted caramel. Born in Argentina, Pastrana married a Frenchman 40 years ago and has lived in Brittany ever since. Today marks her fi rst shift with Mamie Foodie, a catering company where grannies rule. Set up in 2015, Mamie Foodie was inspired by Asian street-food culture, which often sees older women touting street-side specialities.

“This isn’t just a business – it’s also a social project,” says cofounder Johanna Pestour. “In France, over a million pensioners from all different backgrounds say they feel isolated. Cooking with us gives them a chance to get out of their homes and have a validated place in society again.”

Anyone over 60 can apply to work with Mamie Foodie – the only requirement is the ability to cook for 15 people or more, with recipes that they bring with them from their respective home countries including Martinique, Sri Lanka and Mauritius. Th e 12 grandmothers and three grandpas with their eclectic recipes have proved a big hit at the events that Mamie Foodie caters for – as have the cooks themselves, who happily share their tips during the cross-generational natter that accompanies each event. For Pestour, it’s this social element that confirms exactly why she set up the project in the first place.

“We learn so much from these grandparents and we know that cooking with us can change their lives, too,” she says.

The culinary fixer

“i was born in Marrakech, but grew up in France,” says Asmâa Benhamra. “I never had problems integrating, but I realised the main thing people associate with Morocco is its food and the reason it’s so good is because there’s a beautiful culture behind it. I decided it was time to show that.”

Last year, she created La Table d’Asmâa, catering events with modern Moroccan canapés and holding workshops to teach children about North African history and culture via its food.

She also runs Gratin d’Emploi, a networking event that puts recruiters and long-term job-seekers into a kitchen together, in a bid to take the pressure off and try to address the unemployment cycle.

Today’s menu features chicken tagine with olives, preserved lemons and potatoes; chicken and thyme-stuffed pastry parcels; roast-vegetable couscous; and mini sugar-glazed cakes, traditionally eaten during Ramadan. Each ingredient holds a significance for Benhamra, who believes that recipes passed from generation to generation are a mirror of the cultures they belong to.

“Take the simplest of ingredients: tomatoes and peppers,” she says. “Every country has a different way of preparing them, with their own spices and flavours, but the base is the same.” For Benhamra, this is a metaphor for people, and food is an effective medium for bridging any cultural gaps. “Whatever religious or political differences we might have, deep down everyone is the same and one thing we can all do is appreciate good food together.”

The community artists

A bubbling pan of spiced sauce, spoon outstretched.

“Have a taste,” grins Mam Fedior, chef at Pitch Me, a West African restaurant in Paris’s buzzing République quarter. His stall at Street Popote is serving steaming bowls of his native Senegalese chicken yassa, a citrussy, fragrant curry, with green and red peppers adding colour to the chargrilled meat. “As soon as people taste this food, it brings them together – just look at us,” he laughs.

Fedior’s gesturing to his business partner, writer and documentary filmmaker Karim Miské, who was born in Paris to a Mauritanian father. Together with French journalist Sonia Rolley, the three friends opened a restaurant in 2012 that combined their talents, matching Fedior’s homegrown cuisine with a passion for film showings, concerts and book readings.

“The idea was to attract a new kind of clientele and bring West African food to a broader audience, rather than simply serving one community,” explains Miské. Events at their restaurant include book-reading sessions for unpublished authors and experimental film and documentary screenings, all accompanied by Fedior’s delicious dishes and refreshing juices made from hibiscus flower, ginger and tamarind. The diverse crowd settles in, with the act of sharing their creative projects over food helping to break down social barriers.

“When you eat dishes like yassa, you know there’s a long history behind them and you connect to it,” says Miské. “You don’t have to make some kind of political point about being ‘open to otherness’. When you eat together, it just comes naturally.”