Meals that know their plaice

View a restaurant menu and you would expect to find a list of dishes and their prices. But now one Southwold restaurateur is adding a new number - the food miles travelled to get the meal on your plate.

View a restaurant menu and you would expect to find a list of dishes and their prices.

But now one Southwold restaurateur is adding a new number - the food miles travelled to get the meal on your plate.

The move is the brainchild of the new owner of the Sutherland House Hotel and Restaurant, Peter Banks, who grew up eating asparagus and strawberries from his parents' garden and believes in selling only seasonal, locally produced, good quality food.

So while you can't order green beans in the winter or swede in the summer, according to Mr Banks what you can have is food that is tastier, fresher and better for the environment.

The food mile measurement has been calculated according to the main ingredient in the dish, so the furthest travelled is the mussels which come from Brancaster, clocking up 74 food miles, while the locally caught fish from Southwold Harbour travels less than a mile to the restaurant.

The idea was born two years ago when Mr Banks heard about Scottish brussel sprouts travelling in excess of 3,000 miles to be sold just six miles from where they were grown.

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"It is absolute madness," said Mr Banks. "These brussel sprouts were grown in Scotland, but because the labour is cheaper in Poland, were flown to Poland to process, then flown back to Heathrow, stored in a CO2 storage unit in Slough then put on a lorry and sent back up the M6 to be sold in Scotland.

"I just thought, how stupid. Then hot on the heels of that I went to one of the top hotels in the country and they were serving asparagus as a seasonal vegetable in January. How is that seasonal? It's seasonal in Peru!

"When I grew up my parents used to grow fruit and vegetables in the garden and I can remember the first cut of asparagus being something special, now we get it flown in from here, there and everywhere all year round.

"It is not a hard concept; if it is fresh and in season it will taste better, so what I am trying to do is serve good local, in-season produce."

However, the move means Mr Bank's head chef, Alan Paton, has to be increasingly resourceful and creative with his limited ingredients, while front of house staff are left explaining to customers why some things are off the menu.

Mr Banks said: "It does mean the kitchen has to work that much harder, but my head chef is fantastic, he is constantly thinking of new ways to serve things.

"We do have to explain the menu to some customers.

"One lady the other day asked for green beans and I explained that if she wanted green beans this time of year they would have to be flown in from Kenya.

"Also we buy all our fish from the harbour, so there have been days when the fisherman haven't been out or haven't caught much and we have had to take fish off the menu.

"Then you explain to customers that there is no fish because the fisherman in the harbour couldn't go out. But I think that's a good thing, it makes people think about exactly where their food is coming from."

Mr Banks is now hoping the idea could be adopted by other restaurants, as well as encourage more people to shop locally.

He said: "I haven't heard of anyone else doing it, but I don't understand why. It seems like such an obvious thing to do.

"I just hope it makes people think, and then when they go shopping they look for in-season British produce.

"Everywhere else in the world seems to be proud of what it produces; we need to get that pride back," he said.

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