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Flight of fancy

A sustainable restaurant and bar without compromise proves that zero-waste can be luxurious too.

Words by Hannah Tapping

Chef Adam Handling takes an approach to food that you may not associate with high-end dining. Travelling across Japan, his eyes were opened by their zero-waste ethos and each location in his eponymous restaurant group, follows this passion for sustainability. The Ugly Butterfly, situated in an elevated position on the Carbis Bay Estate, is Adam’s Cornish restaurant; but why the name when everything about it, including the view, is so beautiful? It’s ironic; the point being that both food waste and butterflies are beautiful. There is no such thing as an ugly butterfly, in the same way that – with skilled people – there is no such thing as food waste.

The restaurant and bar were launched with the vision of utilising every part of the ingredient, locally-foraged where possible, to create incredible dishes and cocktails. Think sustainable, local, luxury, offering British food inspired by Cornwall and operating as close to zero-waste as possible. Everything is designed to be full circle – anything unused or kitchen offcuts are utilised in the bar, and vice versa. A multitude of techniques are adopted to preserve ingredients such as pickling, fermenting, and freezing, ensuring each is used in its entirety where possible. The team’s innovative practices in Cornwall have evolved extensively since opening. They are now able to get 16 different ingredients from one lemon, using the flowers, leaves, seeds, zest… everything. The restaurant and bar also operate with full transparency, showcasing many of their ingredients in a ‘flavour gallery’ – a wall of Kilner jars containing ingredients – inspiring guests to adopt similar practices and reduce their own waste.

Head Chef, Connor Blades takes inspiration from the seasons. In terms of the culinary process, fermentation and preservation are hugely important – ingredients are transformed using a range of methods, ensuring they can be used later in the year to their best quality. Ugly Butterfly primarily only uses ingredients sourced from in and around Cornwall but takes inspiration from all the chefs in the Adam Handling Restaurant Group who are based at other sites in London and Old Windsor. When the menus are changed for the new season, all the Head Chefs across the Group sit together and plan – the menus are designed with the whole group in mind. If one of the chefs has an amazing idea for an ingredient, they’ll draw a diagram of it, put it in the middle of the table and work out which restaurant is going to use which part, so absolutely nothing gets wasted. If the Group can’t use the whole thing, it doesn’t get used at all. Menu development is always exciting, with so many creative ideas growing from the chefs sitting down together.

The Ugly Butterfly team has built trusted relationships with suppliers across the Duchy and are fully ingrained in the Cornish community. To Adam, ‘celebrating local’ is not only about celebrating rich local produce but also about having the opportunity to completely immerse the team in their local environment. For example, following a collaboration with The Eden Project, they now have access to a variety of ingredients grown there, such as pandan leaves, tropical fruits and a range of teas. The team also works with local artists using driftwood, repurposed surfboards and materials from delivery packaging to create artworks displayed in the bar; even working with a local surfboard shaper to utilise waste products (including roadside rubble and clay) to create vessels that protect glassware and reduce breakage, subsequently using less energy to recycle.

Community here goes beyond the kitchen. The Ugly Butterfly bar team has been crucial in building a strong local community, hosting training sessions and seminars with global brand ambassadors. Bartenders across the Cornish scene are invited with the hope to expand everyone’s knowledge and increase commitment to sustainable operations across the south west. Adam’s Future Stars programme at Truro and Penwith College also offers training and development, teaching an understanding of sustainability practices outside of his own restaurant group. Adam comments: “I’m so grateful to have my restaurant in an place where my ethos and sustainable ambitions are reflected in the area and supported by the locals.”

Across the whole of the Group, the sustainable practices adopted at each restaurant have become a benchmark for the industry, and in Cornwall in particular, Adam’s sustainability drive is at an all-time high. Adam is proud of what his teams put in the bin – it’s hardly anything. One bin bag will last the Ugly Butterfly team a whole weekend during peak season. With sustainability at the heart of the entire operation, Adam has become an industry spokesperson on the sustainability movement, zero-waste, and the role that hospitality has to play.

This was evident when Adam was asked to cook for global leaders at the G7 Summit in 2021 at Ugly Butterfly, creating an opportunity for him to promote British and Cornish food and zero-waste food practices on a global stage.

The restaurant itself has floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the ocean and an interior that features a unique dried flower installation by local florist Hayley Scott. Guests are wowed by the views of Carbis Bay as soon as they walk in; views only surpassed by the spectacular presentation of the dishes served with a touch of Adam Handling theatre and flair. Ugly Butterfly works closely with growers, farmers and fishermen across Cornwall – seafood from Matthew Stevens, grass-fed beef from Homage to the Bovine, organic vegetables, herbs and fresh flowers from Trenow Fields and dairy from Trink – all chosen for beliefs and practices that align with Adam’s own.

Eating a meal here is much more than the sum of its parts. Diners are not just experiencing incredible tastes, they are actively participating in a movement that is seeing a forward-minded, environmentally-conscious practice permeate through the fine-dining industry; a practice which the Ugly Butterfly is proud to be leading in Cornwall.

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