A Q&A with Social Pantry’s Alex Head
Social Pantry is the name behind the Design Centre’s new, permanent dining destination in the Design Avenue, and has also taken over the running of the Dome Cafe in the South Dome. Known for its ethical approach to its business as much as the fresh, seasonal food that comes out of the kitchen, the company was founded in 2011 by Alex Head. Here, she reveals more about what’s coming up on the menu for the Design Restaurant by Social Pantry, the incredible producers she works with, and what ‘conscious consumption’ means to her.
Why did you feel that the Design Centre was a good fit to open a new outpost?
At Social Pantry, we love bringing people together to have memorable experiences around food, and the location, styling, design and atmosphere all play a huge part in shaping how people experience a meal so we are always thinking about how to enhance their experience through creative, innovative and unique design features. The Design Centre has always been a source of inspiration for us so when the opportunity arose to open a restaurant and cafe at this premier destination, it was a no-brainer. We are always keen to collaborate with people and places that share our values for sustainable style, conscious consumption and responsible innovation; and we’ve seen this reflected at Design Centre. My team and I are really excited about this new partnership!
Is there a wider ethos behind the food that Design Restaurant at Social Pantry serves?
We are all about seasonal, stylish, delicious food that celebrates best locally and sustainably grown ingredients. We work with fantastic suppliers, our menus evolve with the seasons, and we operate a zero-waste kitchen and take a nose-to-tail, root-to-flower approach that ensures every part of an ingredient is put to use. We take a lot of pride in presentation too – something that feels especially important in the context of a venue like the Design Centre. Our style is simple and elegant with a fresh, clean aesthetic that really allows the quality of the cooking and the produce to shine through.
Which of the producers you work with do you get particularly excited about?
We work with an amazing selection of producers whose stories we love as much as what they make. We work with UK-based growers and makers wherever possible, sourcing incredible regeneratively farmed fruit and veg from Shrub, based just outside of London in Kent; single-origin, small-batch chocolate from Pump Street Chocolate made in Suffolk; and amazing dairy products from The Estate Dairy in Somerset. With the Design Centre bringing together the very best artistic and design talent, we are excited to be able to do the same with our curated list of suppliers.
What does ‘conscious consumption’ mean to you, and how does that translate to what’s on people’s plates?
I am a fan of the phrase ‘conscious consumption’ because it highlights the importance of thinking about our food choices and encourages us to take an interest in where it comes from. Our hyper-seasonal, zero-waste approach to food puts fresh produce centre stage, making the connection between our food and where it comes from really apparent. Sustainability isn’t black and white, so while our menu places an emphasis on plants, you’ll find small amounts of high-welfare, top-quality meat on our menu from farmers that honour natural systems and farm in ways that increase biodiversity and regenerate the land. It’s all about nuance and finding ways to create delicious food responsibly.
Is there a ‘hero’ dish on the current menu that sums up everything you do?
We do a torched mackerel caesar salad with red gem lettuce, parmesan crisp, nori, sea herbs and zero-waste croutons, which is absolutely stunning and really unique. It’s a brilliant way of showcasing UK fish, and the nori and sea herbs deliver a serious umami hit, tilting the traditional flavour profile of a caesar salad sea-ward to give you a dish that feels familiar yet fresh and exciting.
What about the drinks menu, is there anything special about that?
We are really proud of our drinks offering. Our wine supplier, Liberty Wines, is the UK’s only ‘carbon neutral plus’ wine supplier, offsetting more carbon emissions than it produces. We serve Toast Ale craft beer which is brewed using surplus bread instead of barley, and is a company with a brilliant social impact, donating all profits to charity not shareholders. Our coffee comes from Redemption Roasters – the world’s first prison-based roastery – and we upcycle the spent coffee grounds as part of our zero waste ethos!
What are some of the seasonal ingredients you’re looking forward to adding to the menu over the coming months?
The stone fruits of summer: peaches, plums, nectarines, greengages, damsons, cherries and so on. The possibilities are endless – beautiful seasonal fruit pies and galettes, sorbets and granitas, finely sliced and paired with fresh cheeses in salads, then made into jams, compotes, chutneys, pickles and preserves to see us through the winter! My chefs even have ideas for using the stones, as these can be used to infuse custards, lending a unique nutty flavour similar to almonds (but so much more sustainable), or fermented to create stone fruit pit vinegars.
Design Restaurant by Social Pantry is open Monday – Friday, 8.30am – 5pm. Book a table.