Today I decided to kick off my hunt for the best guilt-free burger around, and after hearing great things on Twitter, there was no better place to start than Cardiff’s hottest new fast-food restaurant, The Grazing Shed. Recently opened just behind the shiny St David’s 2 complex in Cardiff’s city centre, I was keen to see what the fuss was about.
Unfortunately, the Grazing Shed and I got off to a shaky start. After seeing the buzz on twitter (many enthusiastic claims of ‘best burger ever!‘) I crossed my fingers that their supply chain would excite me as much as their menu had titillated others. Unfortunately this was not the case. Though The Grazing Shed make a lot of noise about using ‘local suppliers and local produce’ one look at the menu revealed that their chicken isn’t free range or higher welfare, and their beef is simply labelled ‘100% welsh’.
Knowing that the Grazing Shed were were a brand new business, I tweeted them and asked if perhaps some more ethically sound menu options, such as a free range chicken burger, might find their way on to the menu in future? Was it something they would perhaps consider? Their response was simply to point me in the direction of their ‘Red Tractor Assured’ chicken burgers.
Like I said, we did not get off to a good start.
The ‘Red Tractor’ label that is now bandied about by restaurants, and which you will have seen on the front of packets of chicken fillets in supermarkets, has been identified as laying down the the lowest animal welfare standards of any quality mark on the market; simply guaranteeing the UK minimum levels of animal welfare have been met. In a 2012 report by One Kind and Compassion in World Farming, it was revealed that animals reared under ‘Red Tractor’ conditions can be subjected to mutilation (e.g. tail docking without anesthetic), tethering, and zero access to grazing territory. The stamp also allows for genetically modified or cloned animals and their offspring. You can read more about the findings of the report in this article here.
So why am I including The Grazing Shed on this blog? Well, because the one thing they did get right was their Veggie Burger Menu. Rather than feeling like a carnivore’s afterthought, the 3 veggie options available at The Grazing Shed seem to have been given the same creative love and attention as their meat-lovers menu. From the ‘Super Tidy Burger’ topped with lime & basil mayo and cider apple chutney, to the ‘Naughty Shepherd’ which includes a honey glazed goats cheese fondue, these burgers bring a real sense of excitement to the often sad and disappointing prospect of the veggie burger.
I chose to feast on the aptly named ‘Hell Fire Hippy’ Burger, and it was absolutely divine. The veggie burger itself was a soft patty – so huge it spilled out of the sides of it’s sesame seeded bap. It was topped with a glorious jalepeno-infused sour cream, a spicy Caribbean hot sauce and a creamy avocado mash (and of course, the obligatory but pointless lettuce leaf found in every burger in the land). It had a real and satisfying kick to it, and what’s more, it arrived at my table nestled in a basket of perfectly cooked, skin-on chips in less than 5 minutes. It really was one of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever tasted.
So what do I think of The Grazing Shed? I think that their burgers are delicious. Judging by the reaction of customers on Twitter, and by my experience today; these guys know how to do a bloody good burger in a bun – veggie or otherwise. I don’t think this was ever in question.
The thing that really irritates me about this new business though, is that they are building their brand on the idea that they are a caring, compassionate bunch. The Grazing Shed are selling the image that they care; but that image is a lie. They shout about their locally sourced beef, about their Red Tractor Assured chicken – and when I say they shout about it, I mean it – there are images of their ‘local farmers’ all over the walls (see above). On their website, they claim that ‘sustainability and eco-friendliness are cornerstones of their philosophy’, and they mistakenly claim that using local farms as suppliers will keep the Welsh countryside ‘alive and beautiful‘. Sadly, quite the opposite is likely the case, as the intensive practices used in bog standard ‘Red Tractor’ farms represent a fast track to leaving our countrysides bereft of great British wildlife in a matter of decades. You can read more bout how the intensification of farming is damaging our wildlife here.
Worse still, if their response to my hopeful questioning on Twitter was anything to go by, they don’t appear to be open to trying to improve.
So, to conclude – a note to the founders of The Grazing Shed: Your attempt at food with ethical integrity is in truth, pretty poor. It wouldn’t annoy me so much if it wasn’t for those damn posters! Just tell the truth, and call a spade, a spade: you’re not doing enough to claim that sustainability and eco-friendliness are ‘cornerstones of your philosophy, however local your suppliers are. You make great burgers, but at the moment, that’s about it.
Update (October 2014): Since I published this review, the Grazing Shed have since removed certain claims from their website, including the offending ‘sustainability and eco-friendliness are cornerstones of our philosophy’ and the idea that simply ‘using local farms’ keeps the countryside alive. I would still argue that some of their claims are a little lofty, and there is still no free-range meat on the menu, but at least they are being a little more honest about their offering. As for the wall art? You’ll have to let me know as I have not been back since writing…