In 2015, there were 1444 pubs in the UK that called last orders for the last time. Cue Dr Gale Zappacosta who had the vision to turn the defunct ‘Willow Tree’ in Norbiton, South West London, into a community space in which an integrative treatment clinic would be married with a full-service ‘food as medicine’ styled restaurant.
Last night, ‘The Willow’ held its official opening to a host of integrative practitioners, doctors and nutritional therapists alongside members from the local community, including the Deputy Mayoress. The Willow is not just a regular bar and restaurant, but rather a unique dining experience crafted with the nutritional expertise of ANH-Intl’s sister organisation, Bite The Sun. It also relies heavily on the healthy eating approach built into ANH-Intl’s Food4Health guidelines.
ANH’s Rob Verkerk PhD gave the after-dinner presentation, highlighting both the uniqueness of The Willow’s approach and the important role the restaurant could play within the local community.
“The food was absolutely delicious. It not only looked good, but it tasted good too. This is an ideal place not just to take people with certain dietary needs but for everyone regardless of what they eat. There’s something for everyone with the common theme that it’s good for you!”
— Shona Wilkinson, Shona Wilkinson Nutrition and Lamberts Healthcare.
The Official Opening Menu
The menu on the night followed the priorities for healthy eating as set out in the ANH Food4 Health guidelines. It included unprocessed, diverse, multi-coloured low carb, nutrient-dense plant foods and delicately cooked meat and fish. The macronutrient composition by energy contribution represented around 20% protein, 30% carbohydrate and 50% fats.
A trio of salads including The Willow Rainbow salad, Fragrant Asian salad, and Kale & avocado salad started the proceedings, followed by a palette cleanser, Sorbet of Pear and Rosemary. Each dish made clear its attributes according to a segmentation system that was developed specifically for The Willow. Crucially all foods (and drinks) in The Willow are free of gluten (GF), but most also include one or more of the following segments, these being dairy free (DF), grain free (GrF), vegetarian (V), vegan (Ve), low carb (LC), healthy fats (HF), protein rich (PR), lower sugar (LC), Paleo (P) or low FODMAP (LF).
Tasting dishes of Grass-fed Aged Sirloin, Shawarma-spiced Chicken, Macadamia-encrusted Halibut, Fusion Salmon ‘n’ Salsa with Seaweed Tagliatelle followed, with Mixed Bean, Chickpea and Courgette Falafel Portobello Mushroom ‘Burger’, and Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Kale and Parsley Macadamia Pesto.
After Rob Verkerk’s presentation, diners were treated to Valhrona Dark Chocolate and Coconut slice with Raspberry Accents, which contained no more than 10g of sugar per serving, but lost nothing on 'treat' value. Most conventional restaurant desserts contain around 40 - 60g of sugar.
Not only was the food delicious, but it was cooked to retain as many nutrients as possible, while minimising heat damage or the formation of harmful or carcinogenic by products. In his presentation, accompanied by videos showing conventional restaurant cooking versus the techniques used in The Willow, Rob Verkerk showed how the formation of heterocyclic amines (HAs), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and advanced glycation end (AGE) products can be minimised or avoided altogether. Slower, lower temperature cooking is the name of the game, as is the avoidance of heavily browning or blackening of meats or starchy foods, as is the generous use of a diverse range of fresh herbs and non-irradiated herbs and spices. Owing to its beneficial properties and heat stability, only coconut oil is used for frying at The Willow.
A ‘rainbow’ of vegetables and fruits provide the delivery system for phytonutrients, from the strong cancer-protective nutrients in dark blue/purple berries, the hormone health enhancing benefits in kale, broccoli and cabbage, to the anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing properties in turmeric and onions, all creating a strong foundation for optimal health.
The theme for naturally enriched living continues at the bar, the ambience aided further by the sultry vocals of Odette Adams who had given permission for an airing of her album A Shake of the Hand shortly before its release. Besides providing still or sparking ‘clean’ water on tap that’s gone through a reverse osmosis water purification process, the Willow boasts the UK’s first 100% gluten-free beer bar. The wines contain no added sulphites and are packed with some of nature’s most potent antioxidants – resveratrol, quercetin and epicatechin.
“It was heaven to be able to finally drink a glass of wine with no reactions.”
— Heather Rosa, Dean at The Institute of Optimum Nutrition.
Joining up the dots
Can the Willow provide an innovative model for new ‘food as medicine’ restaurants attached to integrative health and learning centres? Time will tell. There is no doubt that the population's health is affected by a wide range of influences across society and within communities. The right type of health education within communities is a key factor for improving sustainable health, and it is hoped that The Willow’s purpose-built teaching kitchen will help significant numbers of people to learn more about healthy eating, food preparation and cooking methods that can be applied in their own homes.
In Dan Buettner’s book The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, he found that the nine healthiest communities ate clean natural, unprocessed foods; lots of fresh fruits and vegetables; a significant amount of healthy fats with moderate protein and tended to be vigorous and physically active, but on top of that, they enjoyed strong communities with a deep sense of purpose and engagement.
Dr Zappacosta’s vision of re-purposing a pub that had closed down in order to create an enriched living centre for the local community — one that can also be a destination for others who've come from further afield — has now materialised. The real work now begins; that's about making The Willow and it's intimate link with the integrative medicine clinic, Irrefutable Health, a success. This would not only provide a unique service to the community, it could also act as a demonstration model that may contribute to a lasting difference in the sustainability of healthcare in the UK and even beyond.
“Having stepped into Gale’s mind as she put it, it was exciting to find a health space for all. Providing access to integrative clinicians, learning environment and a wonderful community food hub, I will definitely be coming back and recommending this to many people regardless of what spectrum of the health journey they are on.”
— Louise Joyce, Sales Manager and Practitioner Consultant at Nutri Advanced.