Boston Tea Party, Bath
24 November 2017
My big discovery from a flying visit to Bath has been the brilliant small cafe chain Boston Tea Party, which serves delicious food, manages to project a great personality and has a thorough and energetic approach to sustainability.
It started with breakfast. I was staying in a hotel that provided - shall we say - unsatisfactory breakfast arrangements. A search for what was nearby that was open for breakfast early delivered the Boston Tea Party, or BTP as it is mostly styled on its branding. (Why the acronym? I’m guessing they had lots of people assuming they’re an American brand and came in expecting US-style food, whereas they want to be authentically local - sort of, but back to that later).
Breakfast was a simple affair. I had mushrooms on toast - deliciously cooked fresh mushrooms with flat leaf parsley on a very tasty sourdough toast. It might have ended there, except that I logged into their wifi which, on login took me to their blog. And very quickly you could see just how much effort they put into the sustainability side of the business. I’d seen a few words about how ethical they aim to be, but talk is cheap. Suddenly here was some real detail to flesh that out.
Not many cafe chains pursue a zero waste to landfill policy, for instance. Not many structure their menu in ways that use many ingredients for different products, helping to design reduced food waste into the system from the start. And not many have not only found charitable sources for left over food, but striven to use sustainable sources of energy wherever possible.
As you sit in the cafe, you can see the ‘house rules’ on the wall. These include the commitment to use free range meat and eggs, to use organic milk, and the fact that they’ve achieved a top star rating from the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
There was one more detail that meant I decided to come back for lunch. One of the main lunch options was jackfruit Vietnamese Banh Mi. That’s two ‘things’ in one. Banh Mi has become a thing in the last few years, with the tasty french-bread style sandwiches which have a balance of hot, sweet, salty and sour fresh filling providing a high-taste alternative to what can be a boring range of standard sandwiches. And then, in the vegan community, I was aware that young jackfruit has become a thing, because its neutral flavour and texture makes it a vegan equivalent to pulled pork.
When I make food for people, my principle is always that people with specific dietary requirements should be able to enjoy food as delicious in every way as the rest - so I was interested to try this vegan lunch option to see what I could learn for the future.
Most recipes for traditional Banh Mi will have the bread roll with some of the inside bread scooped out, so it can more easily accommodate the filling. Not here. The challenge with sustainable food service, of course. You’re not going to commit to a process that, by definition, is going to create a lot of bread waste. So the roll was whole, cut down the middle and served with a knife and fork. I tried to eat it without (Banh Mi originated as street food, after all), but there was no way to do this with dignity. So I caved in and used the implements.
That aside, the food itself was delicious. Hot, spicy, and you really would have accepted without question if you had been served it and told it was pulled pork or something similar. Along with the ‘meat’ element, there is pickle flavours, carrot, cucumber, fresh chilli. Served with some real home-made lemonade, it was a fine lunch for anyone, vegan or not.
I’ve been wondering quite a lot recently what a sustainable café would look like. Boston Tea Party provides at least a starting point for the answer to that question. If you’re in Bath (or Bristol or the other dozen or so places you can find them) it’s well worth a look.