Glorious, unfussy organic vegetables
Riverford at The Duke of Cambridge, 30 St Peter’s Street, Islington, London N1 8JT (02073593066). Three-course meal for two, including drinks and tips: £90
Biting into a slice of tomato topped with crumbly, creamy ricotta, I was suddenly thrown into a cliché. This was just like in Italy, I thought, where I first discovered that tomatoes could taste good raw. Add the oozing alkaline green of basil pesto and I’m molta contenta.
This is to be expected when you eat at the pub supplied by Riverford organics, The Duke of Cambridge. Riverford is famous for its excellent veg box scheme, set up by Guy Watson, who is married to the founder of The Duke, Geetie Singh. Aha.
The Duke, which opened in 1998, is now ‘Britain’s first and only certified organic pub’ and yes, it is bloody good at vegetables. But it’s not just an organic pub – it aims to be sustainable in many aspects, from food waste, to packaging, to its second-hand wooden tables and chairs. It has therefore made it on to my food map of climate-friendly restaurants.
The starter was Tomato Salad, Liquorice Salt, Basil Pesto, Leaves & Ricotta (£8). The tomato was so ripe it barely needed chewing and the pesto was rich with olive oil, which we mopped up with what sadly looked and tasted a lot like bread-maker bread (£2.50). There was no liquorice salt evident to me or any of the other three diners around the table so it would be better not listed on the menu; particularly because the word ‘liquorice’ frightens some people. We shared it between four and that was lovely.
Next was Roasted Squash, Greens, Riso Nerone, Corn Salsa & Medita (£14) – picture at the top. Each vegetable was perfect. The squash was pull-apart stringy, sweet, herby and juicy. Baby kale was lemony and as salty as it could be without being too much. Black jewel-shaped rice with carrots and onion was piled up on the squash, and corn with pickled red onion brought acid and crunch. Grated medita, similar to feta, was extra salty seasoning that melted on the tongue.
We also ate Summer Salad, Batavia, French Beans, Courgette, New Potato, Cherry Tomato, Black Olives & Pesto (£13).
Words depicting polytunnels bursting with gluts of August vegetables floated over the table. It was moreish and crunchy and fresh, the kind of dinner you don’t realise is so healthy until you reconsider it later. My only qualm? The veg wasn’t much chopped so with the green, red and yellow colours it looked a little like a toddler’s box of 3D shapes.
Dark, Milk and White Chocolate Brownie, with Cream (£6.50) was pudding. I wanted it to be dense chewy brownie packed with a galaxy of chocolate chunks. But it was a cakey and homogenous block that had been reheated in the oven, making the edges dry out. It came with sour cream that personally, I liked, but it upset the others who had eaten a big spoon of it, just like when my grandma dramatically ate wasabi for the first time.
Value for money? Yes. Organic farming uses more resources and the vegetables were beautiful. There is so much to admire about Riverford and the ethical ethos of the pub. The vibe was rustic and charming with bunches of dried flowers, wooden beams, plenty of windows for light, and the honey-coloured King’s Cross-type bricks.
To be particularly harsh, The Duke won’t excite the very culinarily adventurous. But I would happily bring my friends and family here to gorge on hyper-seasonal, delicious veg. After all, simple, fresh and locally grown is what the Italians are known for – and not what Brits are. Other UK pubs, take note.