Much of the sustainability movement in hospitality is associated with a punk vibe, a raucous middle finger to forces at play against the environment. That is not the case at Quaglino’s in London’s St. James neighborhood. To the contrary, Bar Manager Marco Sangion opted for a refined, nuanced, perhaps posh feel befitting the venue for his eco-conscious agenda. Ultra-lux stylings aside, his new bar program is one of the most comprehensive, progressive, and unique sustainability initiatives in the industry.
The endeavor began with “basics.” Sure, eliminating single-use plastic straws was a gimme, but from square one, the team had far more ambitious goals. “We started by quietly collaborating with associations that would like us to be as green as possible, to reduce waste, to reduce pollution—things that are problematic for the environment,” explained Sangion amidst the lounge’s deco environs. “The [other] idea was to start to check into organic and local products. Try to analyze what are the things that we can do in our little world. This was the beginning.”
The first partner onboard was UK based Indie Ecology. Quaglino’s enrolled in a program whereby their food waste is relegated to special containers that Indie Ecology picks up weekly. The non-profit then composts the waste and uses it to locally grow new, organic produce which the bar, in turn, purchases.
The Hunger Project UK was soon recruited as a second partner. One pound from the sale of every “Q Project” cocktail (Havana 3, Trois Riviere, Sous Vide Banana Amontillado Sherry, Lime, Jaggery, Cocoa, Saline) is donated to HP-UK’s crusade to end world hunger. The cocktail for a cause is eco-friendly, but that doesn’t mean corners were cut or recycled newspaper coasters were necessary. The libation is a work of molecular finesse and arrives, quite literally, on a silver platter.However, the partnerships were the easy part. Over the next six months, Sangion, along with his bar team led by Head Mixologist Federico Pasian, set to work creating a menu devoted to sustainability.
Sure, the bound menu is printed on recycled papers and nestled between recycled, leather covers. Yet, the real tour-de-force is what lies inside that handsome packaging. “Every single cocktail has a story behind it,” Sangion said. “Every story is about what humanity has done over the past 100 years to create these problems. And, what our scientists are doing over the next 50 years to eliminate the problems that we are facing.”
The drink list follows a classic narrative format. The story of environmental destruction and (a shot at) redemption is told through a series of quotes from experts spanning gamut from the World Wildlife Federation to NASA. The tale begins broadly with a general look at sustainability and pollution; then, zeros in on specific problems like sea pollution, hunger, and climate change; and finally, the menu offers some possible remedies.
Each of the 20 passages on the menu is accompanied by a corresponding drink. The explanation of farming sustainability is paired with “Home Sweet Home” (Zubrowka, Turner Hardy British Tomato, Spices, Lemon, Chipotle, Pickled Celery). Save the spirit base, the Bloody Mary Riff is sourced entirely from Indie Ecology’s farm.
An exploration of space pollution inspired the “Zero Gravity” (Don Julio 1942, Palo Cortado Sherry, White truffle, Dandelion, Amer Picon) which is served in a magnetically levitated (floating) vessel. The presentation might seem a little gimmicky, but Sangion believes that guests are seeking a little showmanship—and that theatre can be leveraged for good.
“People these days are not only going out for drinks and food alone,” he told NP. “They want to be entertained a little. And, what is the best way to entertain them? If we can teach them something and help humanity as a whole.”
The team is adamant that the task does not end when the menu is served or a leftover tomato is composted. “If you read through our menu, you can leave Quaglino’s thinking ‘I want to do something myself,’” noted the Bar Manager. “If Quaglino’s only helps, then we have done nothing, but if we inspire others to act, that is how you make change.”
In addition to motivating others, Sangion is already thinking about how to keep expanding (actually reducing) the bar’s own footprint. Maybe increase the number of charities. “Start avoiding plastic packages. Start avoiding CO2,” he mused–already thinking ahead to a more sustainable future.