We are now more aware than ever of the close relationship between our food, health, ethics and the environment. In the supermarket, making educated choices when buying meat is made easier by the labelling; the Soil Association Organic Standard, RSPCA Assured and Red Tractor symbols are all good ones to look out for. Making equally smart choices when eating out can be a little more tricky, but some pioneering restauranteurs are making it their mission to change this. Henry Burgess, owner of Leigh-on-Sea’s popular Henry Burgers, is one of them.
He says, “Ensuring our beef is of a very high standard is super important to us, after all, we only really do burgers, so it’s imperative that the meat is top quality. All the beef we use is organic and we feel that it definitely has an impact on the taste of our final product.”
Henry’s burgers and chilis are made from 100% grass-fed beef, sourced from family run beef supplier HG Walter, based in West London. Henry says, “They are a seriously fantastic family run butchers. We wanted a supplier that was close to home, both for logistical reasons and to reduce our carbon footprint. We didn’t realise at the time, but HG Walter supply a lot of high quality restaurants and Michelin star chefs. If you want quality organic beef it does cost money but it’s definitely worth it in our eyes.You can see the wonderful marbling and fat, which is usually an indicator that the animal has been fed naturally and had a good life. A better quality of life ultimately leads to better quality meat and better tasting produce.”
But the mouthwatering taste isn’t the only benefit; research has shown that grass-fed beef may also be better for your health than beef from grain-fed cows. As well as being richer in omega 3 and antioxidant vitamins, and containing less total fat, grass-fed beef is richer in conjugated linoleic acid – a type of fat that’s thought to reduce heart disease and cancer risk.
Henry says, “Nowadays, thanks to the internet and numerous documentaries, people have access to so much more information on the health benefits of food and food ethics. We have certainly noticed a lot more interest in these issues from our guests in Leigh, as well as other areas locally, and rightly so. We take pleasure in educating our guests where we can and pride ourselves on trying to do our bit for the environment and food ethics. There is still some headway to be made; people are always going to be influenced by price. However I feel that, as consumers, the more we demand ethical produce in our restaurants, the more it will become common practice across the industry.”
Leading by example, Henry’s approach to ethical dining has influenced both his menu and the day to day running of the business. “Of course, we use free range chicken and eggs – I think that is fairly common these days. We have always recycled our cardboard and glass, and in the last few months have started to recycle our food waste too. I feel that this is really important for businesses in the long term. We don’t receive a lot of pressure from guests about this, I feel it has to come from us; ‘from the top’ so to speak.”
But it doesn’t stop there, Henry has even turned his sustainable thinking into sustainable drinking, “Craft producers are very important to us and we stock a wide variety of craft beer as well as choosing many small producers for our wines and spirits. We have been sourcing many beers in cans recently. Cans are not only better for the environment but protect the beer from sunlight damage, making it a lot fresher and better tasting. We have some fruit beers that come from a Belgium producer, made using fair trade bananas, mangos and coconuts. These are very popular wth our guests.”
Despite all of this Henry is far from complacent, always searching for ways to further improve the restaurant’s overall sustainability and, with it, the quality of its ingredients. “We use local suppliers for our fruit and veg. However, we have been searching for a new supplier for potatoes. Aside from the meat, this is another product that is obviously a big part of the concept and it is something we are really keen to explore possibilities in.”
Before opening Henry Burgers, Henry was in the nightclub trade and subsequently spent many years working in all areas of hospitality. His dream, however, was always to have a food led operation. He says, “I decided to travel to a few places to get some inspiration and wanted to create a concept that combined these experiences. We are a family friendly place, especially during the day, but I also wanted it to be somewhere that people could go for a night out. I was majorly inspired by restaurants that I visited in Vancouver, Berlin, the South of France and Ibiza, so I wanted to bring some of that vibe back. Henry Burgers is about eating good quality food, drinking good quality booze and essentially having a good time.”
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