Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Silo, Hackney Wick

Silo is a restaurant founded on the idea of not having a bin, and is apparently - their words - the "world's first zero waste restaurant". At first glance, this seems to raise more questions than it answers. What do they do with used teabags? What happens to milk cartons, egg boxes and string, are they donated to a local craft workshop or primary school? More importantly, what happens to actual leftovers from customers' plates? Do I even want to know?

It's very easy to be cynical about somewhere whose environmental credentials are so radical and so unapologetically stated (just ask Greta Thunberg) but the fact is, the world needs more restaurants like Silo. Not just because they're serving fantastic food for not very much money - I'll get onto that shortly - but because the planet is dying, food waste in particular is a huge problem and if somewhere like this, a smart, modern fine dining restaurant in central London can go waste-free without sacrificing any of the things that make for a successful evening out, there's absolutely no excuse for the rest of us not to at least make a bit of effort.

And speaking of effort, it's clear that the team behind Silo have really thought hard about the environmental impact of every aspect of the restaurant experience. Instead of printing menus for every service, the list of dishes is projected onto a huge whitewashed wall, which as well as saving paper also provides a dramatic design statement and striking backdrop to the events on the floor. The décor more generally, by the way, is tasteful Scandi-minimalist, and all feels remarkably high-end considering most of it is up- or recycled (I think we were told the napkins used to be curtains, or something).

All of which would be a complete waste of time had the food not been any good, but fortunately head chef Doug McMaster (who you may end up chatting with if you grab a seat at the bar, and I very much recommend you do) has put together a sophisticated, Nordic-leaning tasting menu of strictly seasonal British ingredients, and much like the décor, if it's largely composed of offcuttings and surplus stock, well, it certainly doesn't taste like it. The first snack is a little roll of chilli-pickled radish containing soft cheese, which was sweet and crunchy with a gentle heat, a great start.

Silo make their own bread - but of course - and it's wonderful, right up there with the best sourdough in town. They also (it goes without saying) churn their own butter, and that, too, is quite lovely, a nice healthy-looking yellow and soft texture. Both very much brought to mind the bread offering at Where The Light Gets In in Stockport - in fact the whole operation bears more than a passing resemblance to that Jewel in the North.

The first proper course was a kind of optical illusion, a culinary sleight-of-hand. These aren't actually normal red beets but white beetroots which had been glazed in something they called 'beetroot molasses' (essentially an incredibly thick, sweet reduction of beetroot peel and various other waste vegetable bits), the end product having an almost luminescent glow, like someone had put a lightbulb under them. And alongside the extrordinary visuals, they tasted fantastic too - lemon verbena adding a nice floral note, and what I think was rapeseed oil a gentle pepperiness.

Next, artichokes that had been cooked if not on coals then very, very near to them - charred and crisp on the outside, but soft and sweet within, an addictive combination. They were served with an outrageously salty and powerful - in a good way - Stichelton blue cheese sauce, and then to offset all that umami a neat dollop of "ruby" saeurkraut (maybe involving port?) which cleansed and sweetened.

I imagine cuttlefish makes quite a good waste-free ingredient as most of the animal can be eaten without much processing, and the bits you can't eat such as the beak can presumably be repurposed as, I don't know, trendy cutlery or hung up in a budgie's cage. This particular example, with its char-grilled tentacles and bed of turnips and kimchi, had a spectrum of colour and range of texture that made the absolute best of this (very sustainable indeed) animal. Very impressive stuff.

Even better was braised beef from ex-dairy cows, a cut I think they said was from between the ribs which is usually thrown away or used for cheap mince. Slow cooked to a dreamily soft texture more akin to sweetbreads than rib meat, they were glazed in another one of Silo's signature reductions - dark and salty and densely flavoured. A chunk of celeriac did the job of carbs, overhung with an evocative fug of charcoal smoke and it was all finished with a kind of buttery/herby affair.

If I'm going to be brutal, after the fireworks that had come before the dessert at Silo seemed a bit unambitious. It was a perfectly nice blob of goat's milk ice cream - not overly goaty, which was a relief - but the miso caramel didn't really have any flavour other than 'sweet', and the pine snow was pretty bland. That all said, I always appreciate a good smooth ice cream - I don't know much about the environmental credentials of a Pacojet but they'd either used that or something very similar to it possibly upcycled from freezer parts and a hand blender - and did quite happily eat it all.

Usually, when a restaurant experience goes as smoothly as this, and when you're treated to food this good, the cliché is that those responsible make the whole operation look "easy". And it's true there's a natural poise and balance to everything Silo do, from the layout of the room to the presentation of the food, and every aspect of the service including the procession of wines (natural, of course), beers (unpasteurised, darling) and cocktails (by Ryan Chetiyawardana) is effortlessly easy to enjoy. But for a waste-free restaurant, where almost every aspect of the dining experience needs to be reconsidered and in some cases rebuilt from the ground-up, the skill and effort that must have gone into it all is all the more heroic. It's a commitment to the cause bordering on obsessive - quite rightly, too, considering what's at stake.

So Silo is not just a great restaurant, it's an extremely important one. You can sneer all you like at the concept, these bunch of worthy Hackney hipsters breaking their backs to serve a sub-£50 tasting menu and save the planet at the same time, but for all their talent and labour and attention to detail all they're asking you to do at the end of the day is enjoy your dinner, and there's very little chance you won't be doing that. That extra glow of smugness from doing the right thing for the planet? Well, that's just a nice little bonus.


I was invited to Silo and didn't see a bill - but you can see the prices on the menu there. Very reasonable I'm sure you'll agree.


Anonymous said...

and now im curious how they recycle/upcycle/use cuttlefish beaks and cuttlebone.

Its me again said...

This is proper on my list !