Silo Brighton Review
39 Upper Gardner Street
Visited November 2014
Silo, the UK’s first zero waste restaurant, has been designed around an ethos of absolute sustainability, with Head Chef Douglas McMaster setting out to prove that a less wasteful restaurant industry is a real possibility. Silo makes its own almond milk, grows its own mushrooms in leftover coffee grounds, mills its own flour for its (unreasonably good) bread, churns its own butter, transports ingredients only in reusable packaging, and composts every last scrap of food waste, all on site. Even some of the plates are made from recycled plastic carrier bags. This could all be written off as a gimmick if the attention to detail wasn’t so vehement. By using technology – originally developed for medical applications – that creates electrolysed oxidised antibacterial water, Silo has even removed the need for the restaurant to use cleaning products in the kitchens and bathrooms.
The eco credentials are undeniable, but the question is, what does the food actually taste like? Well, the upshot of food being produced in this way is that it’s incredibly pure. The no waste philosophy just doesn’t allow for artificial flavourings and preservatives or anything that has been pre-processed. Citing excessive choice as a key factor leading to food waste, McMaster has explained that, “The places with more choice create more waste and have lower standards, that’s an absolute fact.” Silo’s lunch menu offers six main dishes each day, always including one plant, one dairy, one fish and one meat-based option. Some might be surprised to see ox cheeks or partridge on the menu (and I would expect more vegan options) but McMaster is adamant that including responsibly sourced meat and fish is necessary at this stage to ensure the restaurant appeals to a larger market.
The drinks menu includes Sussex ales and ciders, teas and coffees, and homemade soft drinks. We try delicately sweet and refreshing lime and ginger, and nettle cordials, which are served in jam jars (hopefully for recycling purposes, rather than just hipster appeal). For lunch I choose today’s dairy option, which I’m told is the restaurant’s “most homemade” dish. It’s a brown rice risotto with barley, cooked to give exactly the right amount of bite and enriched with a fermented brown rice paste that delivers a deep, salty, umami flavour. It’s topped with chunks of Silo’s own supremely creamy goat’s cheese and slices of deep orange pumpkin, stickily caramelised at the edges. The result is surprisingly rich, and the dish is necessarily enlivened by a vibrant green herb paste with fresh mint. My friend chooses the plant option, which today is a potato ’steak’ (not quite as weighty as the name suggests) with sweet heirloom tomatoes and a selection of griddled onions and shallots. For a seasonal, November dish it’s a surprisingly sunny plate of food.
Cynics may criticise Silo for being, at best, a bit worthy, at worst, faddy consumer indulgence (and there’s no denying that an average of £10 for a main lunch dish means that the Silo ideology isn’t accessible to everyone at the moment). But after discovering more about the restaurant’s absolute dedication to its philosophy and sampling the food it’s difficult not to admire what Silo is doing. As much a concept as a place to have lunch, through Silo McMaster is issuing a challenge to the restaurant industry: do things better. Happily, the quality of the food supports his argument. It’s flavoursome, nutritious and honest. It may be zero waste but it delivers maximum taste, proving that all of this care really is worth it. Good job too really, as after all that, you’d feel awful if you didn’t at least clear your plate.