Environmentally friendly and excellent cuisine don’t have to be mutually exclusive – on the contrary. This combo often yields taste bud-tantalizing innovations that show just how delicious our resource-efficient future can be.

Fine dining between fishpond and vegetable patch – more and more often, it’s just a quick step from sustainability to satisfying meal. The following five eateries go even further by splicing sustainable, innovative cuisine with premium quality and a unique twist: from an in-house water system (fishery included) to an integrated hydroponic farm.

Urban oasis with carp pond

With its archetypical red-tiled façade and three floors, Hanoi’s Koi Café might seem rather nondescript at first glance. Once inside, the sheer vision of the Farming Studio architectural team soon becomes apparent. While the ground floor includes a pond teeming with the eponymous koi, an indoor waterfall enriches the H2O with enough oxygen for the beautiful carp.

The fish pond is integrated in the interior of the Koi Café
A fish pond in a restaurant – that’s new.
Photo: Nguyen Thai Thach

Their excretions, in turn, are pumped up to the top floor where they fertilize the restaurant’s vegetable garden. Naturally, the irrigation water is refiltered and fed back into the pond via the waterfall, while nearby patrons get to try the homegrown vegetables in one of the restaurant’s excellent dishes. The resulting closed ecosystem is not only easy on resources and the environment, but also doubles as a welcome refuge from the surrounding city’s hectic bustle.

Dinner underneath a glass-bottom fish pond

Locals in Flanders (Belgium) love their Paling in ‘t groen, eel in green sauce. The starring ingredient for this regional delicacy is traditionally caught in the local River Scheldt and prepped with plenty of fresh herbs that grow on the river banks, including parsley, mint, spinach, sorrel, and watercress. Brussels‘ minimalist & experimental Eel Bar sources its ingredients for this national dish even closer to home – in clear sight of those looking for a great meal.

Eel aquarium above the tables of the Eel-Bar
Dine right underneath the fish – in this Belgian joint.
Photo: Yves Andre / Leopold Banchini Architects

Guests at the Eel Bar are seated right underneath a glass-bottomed fish pond integrated in the restaurant’s ceiling where the eels destined for their plates are reared. Once again, herbs and aquatic creatures share a self-contained ecosystem. According to the planners at Leopold Bianchini Architects, who collaborated with Café Recyclart for this project, the unique eatery also serves as an aesthetic installation: Visitors get to experience a holistic utilization cycle first-hand (and mouth).

More indulgence, less CO₂

When it comes to the smallest gastronomic CO₂ footprint, The Perennial in San Francisco easily heads the way. The minds behind the pleasantly laid-back restaurant are passionate proponents of a stringent zero waste policy, winning their brainchild a “most environmentally friendly US restaurant“ accolade. What’s their secret? Like many current sustainability activists, they rely on the clever synergies of fish and veggies within an aquaponic ecosystem. All fish are cleaned and processed on-site, while any single-use products like napkins are designed to double as fish food.

Sandwich with fresh and healthy toppings
The most environmentally friendly US restaurant is located in San Francisco.
Photo: Karen Leibowitz
The Perennial’s interior is made of recycled materials
Even the Perennial’s interior is made of recycled materials.
Photo: Karen Leibowitz

Even nutshells find a second lease of live in the restaurant’s smoker. To dispense with any unnecessary bottles, the restaurant’s wines and cocktails come from a tap machine. And we could go on: All these are just some of the many examples of The Perennial’s comprehensive, carefully considered sustainability drives focused on avoiding packaging and kitchen waste as well as unnecessary food miles. Even the interior is made almost exclusively from recycled materials like surplus pallet timber. Not to forget: The critically acclaimed cuisine is mouth-wateringly excellent.

Bite-size regional nibbles

The farm-to-table approach, where restaurants get their regional raw materials straight from a local farmer, keeps growing in popularity. Among the concept’s successful pioneers: the Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown on the Hudson River (New York State). Those who flock to this old stone barn are in for a treat – and a surprising one at that. The restaurant doesn’t offer a traditional pick & choose menu, but delights gourmets with a tasting menu of around 30 bites and courses sourced exclusively from surrounding farms.

Cook holding a freshly harvested root vegetable
Local produce, according to the farm-to-table principle.
Photo: Daniel Krieger
Carrot carpaccio
Chef Dan Barber creates sustainable delicacies.
Photo: Daniel Krieger

Combined with true nose-to-tail preparation methods, where no part of the animal goes to waste, this ensures that otherwise neglected tidbits end up on the plate to provide novel taste experiences. Fun fact: Head chef Dan Barber initially rose to culinary fame with his complex analyses and TED Talks on sustainable dining – and deservedly claimed his spot on the renowned “World’s 50 Best Restaurants“ list in 2017.

Insulating jeans and social spaces

Amsterdam‘s CIRCL also champions waste avoidance and uses nothing but regional products. But that’s not all: The entire building by a Dutch bank also honors sustainability and social principles. Among others, 16,000 discarded pairs of jeans – some from employee wardrobes – help to insulate the façade while window frames from old offices also get a new lease of life.

Cook preparing at the CIRCL, Amsterdam
The CIRCL team works inclusively and uses nothing but regional products.
Photo: Floris Heuer
Wooden furniture in the interior of the CIRCL
The restaurant itself is built according to sustainable principles.
Photo: Floris Heuer

And since the restaurant deliberately wants to include a social component and serve as a place of encounters, the catering branch makes a point of hiring people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s a great example of turning lip-service ideals into tangible, lip-smacking facts.