The Water House, London – My new kitchen

16 April 2008
The Water House, London – My new kitchen

The eco-warriors from London's Acorn House have opened their second restaurant - and with Water House they've taken planet saving even further. Diane Lane went to find out more

Enough is as good as a feast, the saying goes. This was the philosophy applied when furnishing the kitchen at Water House, the second venture from Arthur Potts Dawson and Jamie Grainger-Smith, in tandem with charitable regeneration agency the Shoreditch Trust - the same team that together brought us Acorn House, described as London's most sustainable restaurant.

"It's a basic kitchen designed on adaptability and energy conservation," says Potts Dawson, who served an apprenticeship with the Roux brothers and spent four years at the River Café with Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers - they "feminised me", he says.

"The kitchen does what it needs to and only takes up the space it needs," Potts Dawson adds. Of course, Acorn House was designed to be eco-friendly but the 64-seat Water House takes sustainability to a whole new level and is arguably the greenest urban restaurant in the world. It's the second restaurant in a planned collection of five based on the "elements" - wood, water, fire, earth and metal.

Water is the theme here - and it's located, appropriately, on the bank of Regent's Canal in Shoreditch, east London. But the water element doesn't stop at the view from the floor-to-ceiling windows. The canal plays its part by lending itself to a heat-transfer system that pumps hot water into pipes in the floor and cold water into pipes in the ceiling to create a comfortable ambient room temperature without the need for normal air conditioning.

Additionally, 50 solar panels on the building's roof generate photovoltaic electricity. The power for cooking is in the form of hydro-electricity sourced from Scotland and part of the brief to Mike Bridger of Airdale Catering Equipment, who worked with Potts Dawson on the design and installed the kitchen, was that all the equipment had to be electric.

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Photograhs by Adrian Franklin (

"Arthur wanted induction technology, which uses energy only when a pan is on the hob," Bridger says."And every single item had to have several uses - for instance, a bench that could be used by the baker early in the morning, then by the breakfast chef, then for lunch prep." Even the number of Bourgeat pans is limited to the minimum. (Potts Dawson is currently testing some NakedPans, produced by Japanese company Oigen using 75% recycled cast iron and 25% new cast iron.)

The cooking line is from the Garland Ultra series by Enodis and incorporates four 5kW induction hobs with touch controls, a 20-litre capacity pasta cooker with three baskets, a 15mm-thick steel griddle plate with both smooth and grooved surfaces, a twin-six-litre-pan deep-fat fryer and a four-ring electric range with oven. An electric salamander and a six-grid Rational SelfCookingCenter to one side complete the cooking set-up. The absence of gas means no carbon is produced and lessens the demand on the ventilation canopy. It also makes for a better working environment for the eight-strong brigade, led by senior chef Marie Gonfond.

Hydrocarbon-refrigerated Gastro Pro Counters from Foster Refrigerator were chosen for their increased energy efficiency over HFC refrigerants.

Backing on to the cooking range is a Hobart hood dishwasher into which is pumped an ozone dishwashing system, dispensing with the need for traditional dishwashing chemicals and permitting a lower wash temperature. Even the cleaning of the kitchen is chemical-free: the team uses Microfibre cloths and mitts, which work with just water and a bit of elbow grease. A GreasePak Biological Drain Maintenance System ensures that any fat deposited into the drainage system is broken down, although this is kept to a minimum by collecting waste oil in a bucket. Similar buckets are placed around the kitchen for collection of food waste which is composted by way of 2,000 hungry mouths in the Can-O-Worms wormery and dispersed among the tubs of herbs and bay trees outside the restaurant's entrance.

The kitchen is open and "an extension of the dining room", Potts Dawson says. Even dry goods are on display on wooden shelves. "Having the kitchen on show pressurises chefs to perform to a high standard and shows they have nothing to hide and can be approached," he says.

The menu is based on what is at the height of season, "so we can provide a fairly-priced product," Potts Dawson says. Produce is organic and only MSC-certified fish is used. All deliveries come in reuseable tubs which are returned to suppliers for future deliveries.

Financed by the Shoreditch Trust, the cost of setting up the business was £750,000-£800,000, with kitchen equipment accounting for £85,000-£90,000 of that. Profit goes back to the charity for the regeneration of the area.


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