What’s the vibe?
Rockstar Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson has arrived once again at the Tate Modern gallery, and this time a visit to the Terrace Bar is part of the exhibition experience. In 2003 over two million people came to see the glowing sun that Eliasson installed in the vast Turbine Hall. But in the intervening years, he also became well known for the kitchen in his Berlin studio which, with its focus on sustainability and seasonality, was a precursor of much to come. The cooks at Studio Olafur Eliasson Kitchen (SEO Kitchen) make a daily vegetarian lunch for the 100 plus team members at the studio, sourcing ingredients from a local farm, and even growing some themselves.
The idea was to provide a healthy sustainable meal, some downtime, and social glue for the team. The kitchen led to a cookbook, residencies from well-known vegetarian chefs, and now the Tate Terrace Bar is offering a lunch inspired by the food at SEO Kitchen. Surrounded by artworks and lamps designed by Eliasson, visitors can eat family-style at tables similar to those at the studio.
What’s the cuisine?
Tate head chef Jon Atashroo spent a week at the SEO Kitchen in Berlin and alongside the cooks in Berlin created an organic vegetarian set menu for £17.95, sourced from local British suppliers. The meal begins with selected fermented vegetables and dips; creamy labneh, red pepper, and hummus with cumin, all served with a selection of heavenly bread. The starter is a punchy carrot soup jazzed up with a preserved lemon crunch, and it’s followed by a selection of delicious salads. Upstairs in the Level 9 restaurant, there is a more upscale interpretation of the menu which includes a fennel and ricotta salad and Spelt risotto with Lincolnshire cheese (risotto fans might find themselves missing the original.) Dessert is a light gluten-free courgette cake, served with berries and cream. It’s all very wholesome and afterwards, you’re supercharged by eating what feels like a month’s worth of vitamins and fibre in one visit.
Should you (inexplicably) not want to indulge in the SEO Kitchen special menu or just fancy mixing in some meat, then the Level 9 restaurant is also serving its regular menu of British classics.
What about sustainability?
All the ingredients are sourced from local British suppliers and are mostly organic. The restaurant has calculated the carbon emissions of the menu and found that a meal at the SEO Kitchen produces 53% fewer carbon emissions than the average meal containing meat.
At the Terrace Bar you’ll probably be eating family-style chatting with your neighbours, although if that idea fills you with horror, there are a few tables reserved for two. At the Level 9 restaurant get a table by the window for stunning views of St Paul’s and the River Thames.
What’s the verdict?
When talking about what he’s tried to achieve with SEO Kitchen, Olafur Eliasson said: “We can’t just expect people to eat food because it’s good for them, or good for the environment, it has to be better than what has gone before.” A noble ambition, and one I think he’s mostly achieved. (The exhibition’s good too.)
Words by Laurel Ives
SEO Kitchen is running in conjunction with the exhibition until the 5th of January 2020
Find more reviews of restaurants in Southwark here