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Conscious dining

Words by Hannah Tapping

Chef Jeffrey Robinson brings new levels of hyper-sustainability to a waterside inn, helping to support the local community and its producers.

Jeffrey Robinson is a chef with an illustrious career. Best known in Cornwall in recent years for being at the helm of the New Yard Restaurant, which he ran with his wife Caroline, Jeffrey’s passion for sourcing ethical ingredients and animal welfare saw the restaurant gain a loyal and devoted following. His food philosophy and high standards permeated throughout the talented team at New Yard, who became as dedicated as Jeffrey was to serving food from their own walled garden; food grown using permaculture and no dig methods, alongside truly local line-caught fish and pasture-fed Cornish meats.

Jeffrey Robinson reflects: “At New Yard, it was not only the organic, regenerative farming methods used by ourselves and our suppliers, it was the move of taking away the menus in 2020 that really made the difference. This forced the creativity into my team and I every single day. We had to come in fresh and ready to re-create an experience that was not available yesterday, that wouldn’t be available tomorrow – but that was absolutely created for this very one lunch dinner service.” Changing the restaurant’s approach to how they sold their experience was a bold move.

As one of the UK’s first chefs to attain a green Michelin star, Jeffrey is now taking his team and this unique approach to ingredients to a new waterside location, the Harbour House in Flushing. The move from serving a £150 tasting menu to an à la carte pub dining is something of a swerve, however, it’s a challenge that Jeffrey is relishing and he will be dedicated to creating and achieving new levels of hyper-sustainability in the hospitality industry.

Formerly known as The Seven Stars, Harbour House marks a distinct evolution for the historic waterfront property. It pours the very best of local beers from Penryn’s Verdant Brewer, Lacuna, who are making headways with the local sourcing of their hops. Cornish-made gins and spirits will be supplied from Loveday, Pocketful of Stones and other local producers. Jeffrey has a key relationship with David Berwick from St Ives Cider who made their cider for New Yard, one that was up for the World Cider Awards and will now be doing the same for Harbour House. The wine list has been carefully curated using minimal intervention, biodynamic and organic wines with Ben Mudditt from Wanderlust Wines. Ben has been working with Jeffrey for many years and understands his food style and which wines pair impeccably with this cuisine. Pub rooms, all with charming sea views, will be added upstairs in the coming months with these expected to open in winter 2023.

Jeffrey says: “I couldn’t wait to throw open the doors of Harbour House and to bring all of our learnings with us to this utterly idyllic, shoreline pub setting.” Welcoming its first customers this summer, Jeffrey uses produce from just at the top of the hill in Flushing, seafood harvested right outside the front door and imports delivered by sailboat from New Dawn Traders. “By allowing forward-thinking farmers from Cornwall to dictate my menus, I will be honouring how previous generations sourced and traded ingredients from this very location. We’ll be offering a dining experience that is obviously my signature, but in an affordable way. This means we can continue to support the local community, local producers and also means we can create year-round positions for my invaluable and dedicated team.”

Jeffrey continues: “Sustainable is an umbrella term that perhaps isn’t policed as much as it should be. But for me and my team, true sustainability is our daily graft and craft, and it’s evident in every ingredient and every single decision we make as a business.” While the food might be fine, there’s no pretension here. The pub welcomes walkers with muddy boots and dogs in tow for a refreshing pint and a bar snack, as much as they do those preferring to linger over lunch. “We’re able to serve food all day here, from breakfast through to dinner, as we are very fortunate to have three kitchens out back,” adds Jeffrey.

The menu is certainly not what one would consider ‘normal’ pub fayre and it is unashamedly so. “Should a menu be a perceived perception of the customer?” asks Jeffrey. “I don’t believe so. It should be a story created by local suppliers. So, if we can’t source organic potatoes nearby, then we’re not going to be serving chips. We are very passionate about putting money back into the local community and if that means that a menu isn’t what people expect, so be it.” This approach is honest and quite frankly, refreshing.

With a menu reliant on local, sustainable suppliers, Harbour House is fortunate to have a plethora on its doorstep. Soul Farm, just up the road at Trefusis, supplies the vegetables. Jeffrey receives a list of what’s available on WhatsApp, to which he replies “we’ll have everything you’ve got!” and the menu is put together from that. The same applies to Sailors Creek Shellfish, which are literally just out of the front door of the pub, supplying whelks, mussels and queen scallops.

All cooking at Harbour House is over coals sourced from Tom Kemp of Working Woodlands Cornwall, the only eco-sustainable supplier in the entire country, who uses local coppice sourced from surrounding woods. “The pork comes from the same company,” says Jeffrey, “the pigs are kept there to look after the soil around where the trees are coppiced for the charcoal; it’s very circular. To be honest, our ethos is just as strong here as it was at New Yard.”

“I think it’s really important for England as a country to put more focus on the food we eat and prepare at home. The rest of Europe practically revolve their whole day around dinner and I feel that we are very far behind them. There needs to be an education piece about not buying substandard ingredients that are full of obesogens and glyphosates, which are actually making us sick. I really want to help by sharing everything I’ve learned over the last 20 years, so people have the ability to cook better at home and to understand the story a little bit more. Go out and find some organic veg and understand why it’s so important for it to be grown that way. I believe, that unless we changed our mindset on industrial agriculture, in 40 to 50 years’ time, we’re not going be able to grow any food in this country with industrial agriculture. If you look at Wildfarmed, which is where we get our flour from, and watch some of their videos it shows you quite simply just by picking up soil from the ground how dead it can be in chemically induced petrochemical, industrial agriculture, compared to regenerative farmed wheat. I don’t understand why this isn’t more of a mainstream conversation.”

“Back in the 1950s we would have spent 30 to 40% of our salary on food, it’s more like 12% today. One of the major reasons for this dramatic drop in food spend relative to our income is that the cost of rent and mortgages is so much higher than it was and so we are forced to make difficult choices, one of which is having to choose cheaper food. The only problem is there is no such thing as cheap food, someone has to pay for it. If it isn’t the consumer it’s the farmer, if it isn’t the farmer it’s the animals and the soil itself.

"As a nation we seem to be full up on food and starved on nutrition. This is why, even as a pub, we want to be pushing this story forward, and it’s a really easy story to tell when you have access to quality ingredients. We realised that only a small percentage of people could afford to eat at New Yard; there’s no shying away from the fact that it was an expensive restaurant. Whereas, with Harbour House we hope to be able to tell our story to an awful lot more people as the price point is much more affordable. Customers might only come in and spend £20 on a couple of our snacks and a pint and go home, but at least they have experienced the ethos of what we’re trying to say about our relationship with, not only what we eat, but with what we eat eats... and that includes vegetables. In a nutshell, that’s what we’re all about.”

Harbour House’s new set lunch menu includes three courses for £25. Changing with the seasons and catch, it will vary from day to day, but is guaranteed to always be delicious.


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