How does a restaurant win a Michelin green star?

02 February 2023 by

As the country holds its breath waiting for the latest Michelin announcement, here's what it takes to win its youngest accolade – the Michelin green star

The highly-coveted Michelin green star, awarded to only 31 businesses in Great Britain and Ireland since its launch in the 2021 guide, recognises restaurants who are leading the game in sustainability. Here are five of the greenest.

Wilsons, Bristol

Wilsons, an independently owned and run bistro in Redlands, Bristol, received a Michelin green star in the 2022 guide. The restaurant, which opened in 2016 under Jan Ostle and Mary Wilson, strives to incorporate sustainability into their sourcing of produce and the curation of menus, growing many of the ingredients served in the restaurant themselves.

When the restaurant opened it grew produce on a small allotment, a project that has since relocated to a two-acre field in Barrow Gurney. "We have an incredibly large field with two polytunnels, 20 beds and a full-time grower," Ostle says. "We're attempting to grow the majority, if not all, of the vegetable produce we use in the restaurant."

The chef says he allows seasonal produce to lead his menu, requiring creativity in the winter months. "We're relying on stuff that we've preserved or dried and let that dictate what we cook rather than my ambition," Ostle adds.

This approach extends to the drinks menu, which features non-alcoholic options made from their own produce. "We make pumpkin ginger beer with our own pumpkins and a beetroot and horseradish kombucha which is a pretty remarkable replacement for a light red wine."

The same goes for their alcoholic repertoire, sourced from small-scale producers in Europe that are biodynamic, organic and low-intervention.

Wilsons' sustainable culture is something they try to communicate to their guests in an inspirational way. "We let guests know where things come from and sometimes why we do things," Ostle says. "We've got this amazing potato ice-cream with warm chocolate. It's not just clever, it's done out of necessity, and this creates a strong narrative for the guests."

Ostle is keen for Wilsons to engage with other businesses and says his team, who help build the menu, are open to sharing sustainable practices with others. He explains that with Wilsons it's about "showing people that sustainability is not a chain to wear around your neck, it's actually a successful and enjoyable business model to operate in and it's also profitable."

The chef is hopeful for the future of sustainable restaurants. "Historically ingredients that were organic and biodynamic were very expensive," Ostle says.

"But there are ways of changing your working environment and leaning on a rigorous set menu, where you reduce wastage and are actually able to use these things, which in turn, adds a unique selling point to the product you're creating."

Wilsons' sustainability drive doesn't stop here. Ostle is keen to see the restaurant in a place where its menu is entirely formed from home-grown food and hopes a few pigs may even be on the cards.

24 Chandos Road, Bristol BS6 6PF

Where The Light Gets In, Stockport

Founded by Sam Buckley, Where The Light Gets In is a kitchen-garden restaurant set on a rooftop in Stockport. The team place a spotlight on those working locally from soil to shore to deliver the ingredients on every plate.

Credit: Jacob Timms
Credit: Jacob Timms

Buckley is wary of the term ‘sustainability', viewing it less as something to implement, more a frame of mind. "I'm really trying not to use the word sustainable now because its problematic…we have a real problem with greenwashing," Buckley says. "We all need to act responsibly. For me, in that sustainable model it's a lot about grassroots ethics and a lot of that makes sense for business – not wasting food is better for profit too."

This responsible way of living is in the DNA of the restaurant. "It started with a seed and it's grown from there," the chef-owner explains. "You're always asking questions, it's all about maintenance." Buckley is looking into how they can take their responsible practices further. "I'm just about to set up a workshop for coppicing," he says. "We'll coppice hazel and then we're going to build hazel hoops to grow beans."

The chef has placed restrictions on where to source ingredients. "It starts with grassroots ethics and then you go down a rabbit hole of discovery and exploration," Buckley explains. "We only use citrus fruits when they come from a farm in Sicily around this time of year."

Buckley's chefs have come up with innovative ways to use the ingredients they grow. "At the moment one of the chefs is making a really clever smoked celeriac cheese sauce using the trim of the celeriac," he says.

The WTLGI team invite guests to see for themselves why it is so rewarding. "The kitchen is in the middle of the room," Buckley says. "The chefs take out the plates and we tell the stories to people… we tell them this is a farming system which you are part of."

The bubbling creativity at WTLGI has borne two further projects. The first is the Landing, a collaborative growing space built with Manchester Urban Diggers with the aim to promote "food sovereignty, community engagement in local food systems and increased biodiversity in our ever-expanding urban environments."

The second is Yellowhammer, a small bakery which Buckley says is "ethically attached to the restaurant".

When asked how WTLGI will become more sustainable in the future, Buckley's reply is simple: "It's an organic mentality and the people who come and work here bring that mentality with them."

7 Rostron Brow, Stockport SK1 1JY

Tillingham, Peasmarsh, East Sussex

Tillingham, a Michelin green star destination nestled in a 70-acre field in Peasmarsh, East Sussex, started small and has since grown to be the epitome of a sustainable escape.

"It started with Ben Walgate, co-founder and winemaker," says general hospitality manager Conor Sheehan. "He planted the vines here seven years ago and it has always had a low-intervention approach. We farm regeneratively, we don't spray the vines with any chemicals, we don't add excessive amounts of sulphur to the wine, the wine is unfiltered and uses spontaneous fermentation."

During the Covid-19 lockdown, Tillingham looked at how they could further give back to the environment. Sheehan explains: "We took on a walled garden down the road which is part of the Peasmarsh Estate, hired a gardener and planted vegetables."

Sheehan explains that the garden and surrounding farmland provides a lot of what diners enjoy in the restaurant. "We sometimes will get to the point where we have a dish where everything in it is from the farm", Sheehan says. "We try to shout about that to the customers when we're serving it so we can talk about the exact provenance of every item in the dish."

"There has been squash on the menu recently that has been puréed, pickled and roasted too," the manager explains. "The menu changes frequently as it's dependent on what we can get our hands on from the garden or what is at its best."

Tillingham try to create as immersive an experience as possible by inviting guests on a tour around the vineyard. Sheehan says: "If they understand the ethos behind the wine, they understand the ethos behind the restaurant as well, and I feel it makes their stay that much better when they know from the off what we're working towards."

Further sustainable approaches are in Tillingham's future, especially in its drinks menu. Sheehan says: "Ideally we would like everything that is on the soft drink menu to be made in-house, coming from produce from the farm that is totally seasonal and at its best."

Sheehan explains how Eloise Pontefract, Tillingham's sustainability co-ordinator, is driving their agenda forward. "She works on our sustainability practices and communicates to the team what she's working on and how we can be better," he says. "Having someone who is given the time to think about it really helped us achieve the Michelin green star last year and helps move things forward."

Dew Farm, Dew Lane, Peasmarsh, East Sussex TN31 6XD

Pensons, Herefordshire/Worcestershire

Pensons, found on the Netherwood Estate on the border of Hertfordshire and Worcestershire, opened in 2019. The team have put their sustainable foot forward by transforming a kitchen garden from a wasteland into a productive resource.

Managing partner Peta Darnley explains that the team opened thinking about sustainability in a broad sense, "not just about the provenance of the food and drink we serve, but also how materials were used [to refurbish the derelict building] and how we decorated it."

This approach is extended to the food they serve. "We have a large kitchen garden on-site and we grow as much as we can. That is increasing every year, varying by season," Darnley says. "In the winter we still grow a large volume of vegetables like beetroot, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, whereas in the spring and summer there's probably about 50 to 60 ingredients that are going into the kitchen from the garden in any one week."

Credit: Britt Willoughby Dyer
Credit: Britt Willoughby Dyer

Pensons has also curated a drinks menu, the ingredients for which are home-grown. "We have our own apple juice," Darnley says. "And we grow the things we use in our cocktails – we make our own flavoured gins with sloes and damsons."

Pensons creates a culture around sustainability by keeping their guests informed. "There is a lot of labelling in the garden to explain some of our practices," Darnley explains. "We explain our composting system – all the cardboard from the restaurant is shredded and added to the compost heap."

Sustainable principles also come into play in the décor of Pensons, which is adorned with items made by local artisan craftspeople. "All the fabrics used are made using a weaving mill here on the estate," says Darnley. "There is a joinery shop that makes a lot of the furniture we use, for example our willow lampshades."

Pensons looks to how it can further contribute to the sustainability agenda in hospitality, but also within the local community. "The garden is expanding all the time and we've invested in a polytunnel that extends our season by about a month in spring and autumn," Darnley says. "Any surplus is on offer to guests who can exchange it for a donation to the local food bank."

Pensons Yard, Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire WR15 8RT

The Small Holding, Kent

Opened by brothers Will and Matt Devlin in 2018, the Small Holding in Kent epitomises the farm-to-fork model. The aim has always been to be self-sufficient and this started, Will Devlin says, with asking questions.

"The more we looked into doing things the right way, that opened up into questions about everything from where our rubbish went to our packaging and how to use producers that grow things in a more responsible way," he says.

Devlin found that often sustainable principles were put into practice at home, but rarely carried into a professional kitchen, something he was keen to change. "In our menu, the produce that we use is from our farm," Devlin says. "We use a no-dig method which promotes soil health, which is a fantastic way to lock carbon out of the atmosphere. Anything we don't grow, we get from other farms that are close by."

From there, Devlin looked into making his dairy practices more sustainable. "We used a local dairy, but we were buying plastic bottles of milk and cream," he explains. "We decided to buy milk churns which are reusable and now there is zero waste within that food chain."

Devlin's responsible approach doesn't end there. The chef says: "We have 80%-plus renewable energy from our energy supplier, we make all of our food waste into compost and the compost goes back onto the soil."

The restaurant's approach extends to a sustainable drinks menu. "We make a lot of our owns gins and infusions," Devlin says. "We work with a lot of biodynamic, low-intervention wines and we recycle all our glass bottles as well. There are a lot of great brewers in Kent so we're using hops from the local area."

The Small Holding are keen to keep the sustainability conversation going, both with their diners in-house and online.

"In our newsletter, we give out a lot of recipes and ideas on how to do things," Devlin explains. "We've started a course on the farm about growing sustainably called ‘Grow the Seasons' which is about no-dig, low-intervention farming and how people can grow vegetables without pesticides and unnatural fertilisers."

Devlin thinks about the future, both within the context of the Small Holding – where he's looking to install a wind turbine, solar panels, and a borehole to source their own water – and of the British sustainability agenda generally.

"The big goal about food specifically is getting connected around the whole country," Devlin says, "and thinking where we choose to eat and where we can be more sustainable in our choices of food."

Ranters Lane, Kilndown, Cranbrook, Kent TN17 2SG

What Michelin says

These restaurants hold themselves accountable for both their ethical and environmental standards, and work with sustainable producers and suppliers to avoid waste and reduce or even remove plastic and other non-recyclable materials from their supply chain.

These restaurants offer dining experiences that combine culinary excellence with outstanding eco-friendly commitments and are a source of inspiration both for keen foodies and the hospitality industry as a whole.

What the inspectors are looking for

There is no specific formula for awarding a Michelin green star, as every restaurant and its surrounding region has a unique set of conditions. The inspectors are simply looking for those at the top of their game when it comes to their sustainable practices.

They consider things such as the provenance of the ingredients; the use of seasonal produce; the restaurant's environmental footprint; food waste systems; general waste disposal and recycling; resource management; and the communication between the team and the guests.

Initiatives can take various forms and no two restaurants will be alike – all the inspectors are looking for is a strong commitment to sustainable gastronomy.

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