Event – SILO Soft Opening
I walk into SILO in Brighton to find a throng of people, a warm welcome and a bare, stripped-back interior. This is a soft launch with the restaurant/bakery/coffee shop expected to open in early October. Even then, I still expect the feel of the place to be similar – bare bricks, industrial metal and recycled wood, reflecting the pureness of the menu that creator and chef Douglas McMaster has strived for. It’s as raw as the raw milk being served here.
Obviously, there is a whole team behind this endeavour who have been working extremely hard to make it happen. This morning there was no running water and no tables and chairs. Now we stand in the first zero waste restaurant this side of the hemisphere (following a similar set up opened by Douglas in Melbourne). Imagine what they’ll have done by the end of the month! SILO is described as a “pre-industrial food system that generates zero waste.” But what does zero waste really mean? Let me give you a taste…
No waste is produced here. This means delivering base ingredients in their purest form with as little use of packaging as possible. It means that not only will SILO be baking your bread, they will even be milling the flour with which to bake it. On site sits a giant composting machine so not a scrap, from prep or from plate, is wasted. Here even the water is not quite as it seems. It will be elecrolisized oxidised water that is so pure it can be used to clean, making this site self sufficient for cleaning products.
We sit down at tables and chairs made of rough, recycled materials whilst plates made of recycled plastic bags and bubblewrap are placed in front of the guests. These plastic splats are the creation of sustainable designer Louise Thilly and a reminder that every little detail has been thought through. Is this style over substance? As we see more competition on the Brighton food scene, we also see more gimmicks to get punters through the door. Is SILO offering more than just live chickens roaming around the front area? (Seriously, there are going to be live chickens.)
With Douglas at the helm, and a strong belief in pure, organic foods, we can expect so. He was the BBC Young Chef of the Year in 2009 and in Melbourne SILO was awarded Restaurant of the Year after just 6 months. No pressure then.
To be opening his own restaurant here in Brighton, and with a complex ethos, is an amazing achievement. He tells us he hasn’t slept in 3 days.
Our starter is a signature dish of Douglas’. Nettle soup seaweed and curd, alongside SILO’s own-made bread and butter, arrives in a hotch potch of different sized jars. It’s a hearty, thick green leaf soup given extra body when you discover the soft curds within.
The main that follows is a hill of homely mixed grains, Espresso mushrooms and a delicate duck egg yolk nestled upon it, decorated with edible flowers. It’s a well balanced and satisfying dish, with a little added tang from a light vinaigrette.
The dessert arrives; half a biscuit leaning up against quinoa and a pile of whole blackberries in a pool of red, fruity coulis. “It looks like raw biscuit dough,” comments my colleague and to be honest that’s how this malty mash tastes. It’s nice enough, a small taste of sweetness at the end of the meal, but it’s not particularly indulgent. Due to the rush to get everything ready, we are being served a simplified menu so come the public opening we may yet expect more.
SILO will be open 7 days a week from 7am till 5pm. As it stands, the lunch courses will be in the £8-14 bracket. Breakfasts are relatively expensive. Sure it’s pure; however, at £7 for a bowl of wholegrain porridge with blackberries and almonds, this is going to price a lot of people out, whether they believe in the cause or not.
Will SILO be able to garner enough excitement amongst the Brighton community for the long run? Having experienced the people and ideas at play here it’s hard not to root for them and hope that this new and exciting concept gains success in the competitive world of Brighton dining.
SILO, 39 Upper Gardner Street, Brighton.
Words and images by Laura Evans