The Dining: Silo, Brighton's Zero Waste Restaurant
Updated: Nov 8, 2018
On the ground floor of a handsome industrial-looking building in the heart of Brighton’s trendy North Laine district, something of a first in the restaurant world is taking place. Simple, sustainable and not 'superchef': the UK's first zero-waste eatery, Silo is due to open in just under a week’s time.
The restaurant is aiming to massively raise the bar when it comes to all things ethical and culinary. It will recycle and composte all of its waste. Supplies will be delivered in reusable containers. Ingredients are being sought from (mostly local) farmers and producers direct. There are no middlemen. Flour for the restaurant’s bread will be milled on site. Booze is being brewed in the basement.
Dishes will come served on startling-looking plates made from recycled plastic bags, with drinks – in the main, coffees are excluded for obvious reasons – to be drunk out of recycled jam jars and receipts emailed to customers to save paper and there are plans for solar panels to ease the electricity usage.
It’s 10 am when we visit so there’s no food to be had. But the sample menu is on hand, listing – among other things – brown rice risotto with oyster mushrooms and sheep’s milk curd, or purple spouting broccoli, purple potatoes, capers and shallots. If neither of those distinctly unmeaty options take your fancy then there is also roasted chicken with walnut pesto, buckwheat with turnip tops, or a confit rabbit served with nettles, parsnip and barley. Sitting comfortably at the window table of the airy, functional space – white brick walls, exposed lightbulbs, simple benches, a huge blackboard – is the restaurant’s young founder and lynchpin, Douglas McMaster. The 27-year-old, a former BBC young chef of the year, says his desire to do things differently didn’t come from a single lightbulb moment but rather from a series of different experiences and thoughts.
He cut his teeth at the celebrated London restaurant St. John with its famous “nose to tail” cooking – entire farm animals were cooked and eaten with little or no wastage. This was followed by stints at restaurants in Copenhagen – including a fleeting placement at Noma – where the emphasis was on wild food and foraging – “basically ingredients not bought at the supermarket” – and then in Australia where McMaster piloted the zero-waste idea.
There will be just six daily main courses to choose from at Silo, with specials thrown in. There will always be a meat dish, a fish option and at least one vegan meal – plus plenty of other vegetarian choices. McMaster actively attacks the notion of choice when eating out: “Choice is something which is wrong with the food industry. The places with more choice create more waste and have lower standards, that’s an absolute fact.”
For McMaster the simplification of food is key. He hopes to mark Silo out as a real potential antidote – along with a handful of other back-to-basic eco-eateries such as Bristol’s Poco – to the excesses of the superchef mantra that has dominated the UK’s restaurant scene in recent years. There are notable exceptions such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – who spearheaded the Fish Fight initiative to highlight unsustainable practices in the fishing industry and who campaigns against factory farming, but generally the big mainstream chefs are not known for their commitment to ethical causes.
McMaster intends to be fully at the helm in the kitchen for the opening night and beyond: the restaurant recently opened for a one-off dinner as part of culinary festival but the food itself received a mixed reaction, although the ethos behind it scored highly. (The chef himself admits he was “really unhappy” with the food that night but says the event had been booked in months before and that they simply weren’t ready.)
At heart, above all, he is a chef who wants, passionately, to feed people and to feed them well. As he says: “It’s great to have all these ideas but if it doesn’t make money and work, then what’s the point … no one is going to take it seriously.”
Silo restaurant, bakery and coffee house opens on October 6th at 39 Upper Gardner Street, Brighton BN1 4AN.
Like this? Read these: