In a country that is home to the world’s biggest houses, roads full of ubiquitous 4×4 utes, a world-famous city that is crippled by its own anachronistically stunted public transport network and voracious tumble dryer usage even on 30C days, green concepts have a long, steep hill to climb before hitting mainstream palatability.
So, it is no mean feat that Greenhouse by Joost, a pop-up eco restaurant sitting bang in the epicentre of some of the most globally famous and eye-wateringly expensive real estate known to man, is setting a few tongues wagging here in Sydney. It helps that the temporary structure is covered in plants, is eye-catchingly rustic against the anathematic glass backdop of (uber fancy) Quay restaurant and is the inadvertent limelight stealer in many a tourist snap of the enduring Trifecta – ‘harbour, ‘bridge and ‘house.
Londoners are lucky to have the brilliant Waterhouse and Acorn House eco restaurants in their midst, as well as the low-energy Duke of Cambridge, Saf and Clerkenwell Kitchen. Those eateries, however, aren’t housed in a glorified (but very lovely) outhouse that is a salutory call to energy-hungry Sydneysiders to try to spare some thought for the environment the next time they switch on the A/C. Joost is a brave man.
The building is made of salvaged everything. Glasses are jam jars and flowers are from the rooftop gardens. Chairs are made of reclaimed metal tubing and plates are chunks of plywood. There are no rubbish bins and all waste is composted. Cutlery is wooden and there is a little demonstration oat mill to play with. It’s a big, bright, bustling space and the view is, well, it’s pretty damn phenomenal.
But what Greenhouse makes up for in novelty it sadly lacks in a menu that didn’t cut the proverbial organic mustard for me. Although the oysters, cured meats and olives were spot-on the meal sadly didn’t live up to the view or the experience. Herbs from the roof, flour milled on site, pasta, bread, the whole shebang, made in the temporary kitchens is all very well and good – and I love the idea – but the bread was tasteless, the bumpy pasta lacking punch and the pizza dotted by crunchy disks of anaemic potato and not much else besides.
The focus, I suppose, should not be on the food but on the premise of the place – it’s here to send a message and to that extent, it’s done well. Or so the smiling waitress up near the loos must surely feel – I heard her explain to each loo goer upon leaving the trestle-table-for-door loos that yes, the tap is working fine, it is supposed to keep running to give you a sense of how much water goes into each loo flush. Sydney, though, is a city of food-lovers and green goodness alone cannot fill a stomach.
Like any good novelty, its days are numbered. It’s worth a visit if only to try the home-made (but soon to be marketed) gin, but more to the point, it’s worth a visit to see what can be done with a bit of lateral thinking and some wild strawberry plants. And all within a city in which it is impossible to find a streetside recycling bin, where the car always takes precedent and where clothes-laden washing lines are as rare as hen’s teeth.