This is the perfect time of the year for Tiny Leaf to open, with many people having just taken part in vegan January (‘Veganuary’). There is also a recent UN recommendation to eat less meat due to the impact meat consumption is having on the planet. However, Tiny Leaf isn’t trying to convert the population to rigid vegetarianism. It is instead showing what can be done if a creative and sustainable approach is taken to using surplus food available from local food suppliers.
Tiny Leaf is the brainchild of chef, writer and food activist Justin Horne, General Manager Jonathan Krauss and Marketing Director Alice Gilsenan. There is also a passionate team of chefs, designers, bartenders and waiting staff involved in the project. After working as a carpenter, private chef and running his own catering company, Justin is now directing his creative energy towards encouraging people to ‘eat themselves to happiness’. He is on a quiet mission to educate, raise awareness and change the way the industry deals with food waste, showing that it is possible to run a restaurant in a sustainable way.
The initial idea for Tiny Leaf came after Justin visited Instock restaurant in Amsterdam. Instock serves dishes based on ‘food waste’, which is surplus food that would have otherwise been thrown out. Taking inspiration from Instock, Justin began to shape his plans towards the end of last year for a London based restaurant that would produce great dishes from would-be waste food.
Hosted in Notting Hill’s Bumpkin restaurant, Tiny Leaf stretches over four elegant floors. The main bistro on the ground floor is simple and clean, with wooden tables, warming candles and quirky pot plants. There is a more formal dining space on the floor above. On the third floor is the glamorous Jackson Pollock-esque ‘White Room’, complete with a botanical bar. Finally, on the top floor is the ‘Dark Room’, also with a bar, and where a series of talks and screenings will be held over the coming months.
Open from breakfast through till dinner, the food at Tiny Leaf is simple and seasonal, with vegetables taking centre stage. Pretty purees and elegant vegetable crisps ensure all parts of the vegetable are used. The menu will be slightly different each day, based on what the team have been able to source. There are also plenty of vegan options.
Tiny Leaf is working with some impressive suppliers, including Planet Organic, the London-based organic supermarket chain, and the UK’s largest organic wholesaler, Langridge Organic. Sourcing leftover food does present some interesting challenges for menu planning, but Justin and his team have developed an approach which allows them to tweak dishes depending on what comes in each day.
Given the time of the year, kale and root vegetables are at the time of writing featured strongly, but the menu could also include feta, cashews, chickpeas or kimchi. There is also a daily changing Market Plate showcasing the best of the vegetables the kitchen has received that day. And if you’re lucky, you might have a croissant buckwheat and butter pudding as an option for dessert. An unusual addition to the menu is yeasted butter, which has a very faint taste of Marmite and is delicious slathered over rescued bread.
The message of sustainability extends to the drinks menu; there’s organic vodka, wines and Toast Ale, which uses surplus bread in the brewing process. This selection is complemented by a great range of healthy non-alcoholic cocktails and potent botanical elixirs. Tiny Leaf is also one of the first restaurants to install a special filtration tap that produces re-mineralised alkaline water by stripping impurities out of regular tap water. This is served sparkling or still in reusable bottles. A percentage of sales of the water will be donated to the Whole World Water charity. Tiny Leaf is also encouraging diners to make voluntary donations as part of their bill to Soil Association and Refugee Community Kitchen Calais. Tiny Leaf will match fund every £1 donated.
The ultimate aim of Tiny Leaf is to deliver a ‘gastronomic guilt-free experience’. Justin believes that you shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality to live sustainably. As he says, it’s possible, and more enjoyable, ‘to live consciously and sustainably, and have a good life’. There are also big plans for the future, including finding a permanent home for the restaurant, installing aerobic digesters and growing their own vegetables. There will also be a small shop inside the restaurant selling kimchi and nut mylks.
Tiny Leaf is bang on trend with one of 2016’s top food trends, flexitarianism, with more people consciously mixing meat consumption with vegetarian options. If you are a confirmed vegetarian, or a carnivore wanting to explore more meat-free meals, Tiny Leaf provides plenty of options served in a stylish and relaxed setting. Tiny Leaf’s message is also hopefully one that customers will carry home, encouraging more of us to choose to live and eat in a sustainable way.
By Meredith Whitely