Galvin at Windows have the wonderful Fred Sirieix, Lyle’s in London have John Ogier and the Parkers Arms have the inimitable AJ… for many, these “unsung heroes of the restaurant business” are the friendly faces that not only greet diners but can also set the tone and the ambience of the restaurant.
At Brighton’s Silo, customers are greeted by ‘Bertha’.
As her name suggests, Bertha is a big girl. You could describe her as chunky. She looked like the type of hefty lassie who could munch her way through 60kg of organic material in just 24hours.
Bertha’s role in helping Silo to be “the UK’s first zero waste restaurant” is central to their ethos. Much of the compost made by this anaerobic digestion machine is returned to local growers who supply their produce.
Yes, drinks are served in jam jars but when you include the ‘plates’ made from recycled plastic bags; ‘candles’ made from used fryer oil (with wicks made from one of the chef’s old t-shirts) and ‘soap free’ hand washing facilities (with ‘blue and red water’), you realise that they are considerably more serious about their eco credentials than your average jam jar drink serving hipsters. All this could come across “preachy” but it doesn’t.
With five of us dining, we opted to share some bread, a couple of portions Jerusalem artichokes and the soup as ‘starters’. Fortuitously, we each took a fancy to a different one of the five mains on the menu (Dairy, Plant, Fish, Meat and Wild). This way we ordered all that was available on the day’s short menu.
Silo Sourdough & house churned butter – made with flour that they’ve milled in house, the sourdough bread was decent, with great butter.
Cauliflower soup & hazelnut butter – served piping hot (and in a jam jar, natch), the soup was creamy and indulgent; the hazelnut butter topping
Jerusalem artichokes & Sussex Yeoman cheese sauce – the menu at Silo isn’t broken down into starters and mains as such but these were great for sharing at the beginning of the meal. For many, they’d probably be too much for one, but I’d have happily had a plate to myself.
Dairy: Fermented brown rice risotto, Silo’s fresh curd & espresso mushrooms – attracted by the home cultivated mushrooms that they grow on waste coffee grounds and the fact that I generally love anything ‘fermented’. I chose well. Earthy and umami richness let you know you had eaten something with sustenance; bright, clean flavours from the salsa verde and fresh curds (made with the ‘left over’ frothy milk from their foaming pitchers) added a lightness to a hearty dish.
Plant: Cauliflower steak, sprouted lentils & caramelised red onion – my youngest stepdaughter loved this dish. The taste I had impressed me too; especially the hazelnut sauce and cauli combination. Great textures too.
Fish: Catchbox plaice, seaweed mash & Alexanders – the fish used at Silo are provided by a cooperative of local fishing boats called Catchbox, ensuring the produce is fresh, local and responsibly sourced. The mouthful I had with the seaweed mash and wilted Alexanders was a real celebration of the sea (if you’ve not heard of Alexanders, check out the info & recipes from the Eden Project).
Meat: Rare breed pork belly, purple sprouting broccoli & violet potatoes – as can be the case, the pork here was a little dry and tough; some of its quality still managed to come through in the flavour though.
Wild: Beef feather blade, wild garlic, swede & buckwheat – with my eldest stepdaughter at the opposite end of the table, this was the only dish I didn't get around to snaffle a taste of; the braised feather blade looked great and I do like a bit of black daikon.
To finish, we shared a Macaroon cake & poached rhubarb and a Sea buckthorn & quince fool – the rhubarb came with crunchy cacao nibs, which combined two of my favourite things; the fool came served in a jar which did not come as too much of a surprise, that job was reserved for the stunning, sharp yet sweet sea buckthorn jelly set onto the bottom.
On paper (screen), Silo may seem a bit gimmicky but hackneyed jam jars aside, it didn’t seem that way in reality. An alumnus of Fergus Henderson’s St. John Bread & Wine and winner of BBC Young Chef of the Year in 2012, Chef/proprietor Douglas McMaster is a serious talent and Silo is a serious restaurant from which all restaurants could learn a thing or two.
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