181-183 Wardour Street,
“*So what’s good to eat here?*” I asked the manager as we stood by the counter in Otarian. He looked up at the menu, which is mounted on the wall above the counter (a la McDonalds), surveyed it for a few seconds, and then replied: “*Personally, I would recommend everything from the beginning of the menu to the end.*”
Otarian have spent over a £1million on their menu, and invested two years researching it. Everything is as low carbon as it can possibly be, they know where all the ingredients have come from, how far all the ingredients have travelled, and by which modes of transport. You might wonder “*How can you spend £1million on anything?*” says one of Otarian’s founders, Radhika Oswal. Then, answering her own question, “i*f you’re a girl, and if you’re me, it’s easy.*”
However, Otarian is not a restaurant that has vainly spent a lot of money. They have a strong ethos and mission, and the money has been spent to achieve these ends. The idea for Otarian came about when the owners were wondering around London looking for a place that served vegetarian food. Failing to find anything that tickled their fancy, they decided to open one themselves. And the time and money invested in Otarian has made it so much more than a vegetarian restaurant. It is the UK's first vegetarian restaurant chain, it is London’s first totally low-carbon restaurant, but even beyond that, it is a restaurant with a new concept of its very own: ‘Otarianism’.
So why does vegetarianism go hand in hand with the restaurant being low-carbon you might ask? Eating meat is very energy inefficient. A field of crops can feed a few cows which can feed an even smaller number of humans. That same field of crops could feed a many more humans than the few cows. Therefore, by eating vegetarian food, we are automatically cutting out a huge amount of processing and energy.
Oswal speaks of other fast food restaurants whose ‘un-happy-meals’ can be inauspiciously compared to Otarian’s food, using a lot more energy than is necessary, and being wasteful. She says that “Sustainability cannot be superimposed. It has to be at the heart of a company.” Otarian have done the maths. If every meat-eating Londoner swapped their lunch for one of Otarian’s low-carbon combo meals just once a week for a year, it would be equivalent to turning of the electricity in the houses of parliament for seventy years! That’s a pretty impressive lunch-hour achievement. And every aspect of Otarian is sustainable. 98% of their waste is recyclable, all of the restaurant’s furnishings are made from recycled plastics and other materials - they’ve thought of everything.
Of course, no matter how ethical and green any restaurant is, what really matters is the food. Having been recommended anything and everything, I opted for the Indian Chutney Burger (5.95), and my guest opted for the Red Curry Noodles (£5.95). We shared some Sweet Potato Chiplets (£2.45). All the food came packaged like normal fast food, in disposable boxes, presented in plastic trays, but packaging aside this food was nothing like that in other fast food restaurants. The burger was huge, the bun was soft (and there was a choice of white or brown), and the burger was second to none, and the ‘chiplets’ were fantastic. Another great thing about it all, is that even though you might feel a bit naughty sitting down to a burger and chips, when you think about it, and look at the amount of calories you are eating (which are written up on the menu) there is no reason for any guilt. In fact, your fast food lunch probably contains quite a few of your five-a-day.
There are two branches of Otarian. One on Shaftsbury Avenue, and another on Wardour Street, just off Oxford Street. While you might not feel the need to stray off the main road while shopping on Oxford Street, Otarian is a great and inexpensive place to go for lunch. It has truly tasty food and is extremely good value for money, and where else can you feel like you’re helping to save the world while eating a burger?
**Reviewed by:** Emily Boyd