The sun is setting across Brighton when myself and my dining partner arrive at Silo on a quiet Wednesday evening. It’s a little different to the first time we visited four years ago: gone are the mason jars and long surfaces – instead, individual tables with short, stylish glasses propped neatly on top sit in their place. Yet the no-waste ethos is just the same, and we’re pleased to see the menu is chock full of just as many unusual ingredients as we were presented with on our inaugural visit.
We’re shown two seats at the pass – my favourite seats in the house – and offered a ‘French Kiss’ welcome cocktail (£9), a divine combination of strong fennel seed-infused cognac and quince and bitters ice cubes which melt in to the drink and transform it over time. I struggled to really feel passionate about the sciences after my school years, but this was some chemistry I could get behind.
Silo’s creator Douglas McMaster is absent on our visit, so chefs Dan Gibeon and Claire Staroccia are looking after us for the evening. The pair present us with a plate of gherkins to begin (£2.50), dressed in apple molasses and fennel pollen, and then a plate of good old bread and butter served in true Silo style – on a plate made from recycled plastic bags. I conclude that I would visit Silo again for this simple dish alone – the bread is not only made onsite but the flour also milled here, and the butter’s tanginess is a delight (and, no surprise, is churned here too).
We’re recommended the chefs’ favourite wine – a delicious vegan Grenache blend from Provence dubbed ‘Papillon Rouge’ (£49 for the bottle) – and promptly brought our starters. Keen to try the vegan and omnivorous options on the menu, we’ve opted for both – one starter of hispi cabbage and apple molasses accompanied with pangrattato (sourdough crumb) and the other with black pudding. They’re equally delicious, each of the additions offering an umami crunch to an already flavourful dish, while a hint of chilli hidden at the bottom of the plate adds unexpected warmth.
Our second course comprises a combination of potato, sea kale and cobnut (a type of unprocessed British hazelnut, Google tells us), a description I would probably have skipped if faced with it on the menu. But upon the first bite I realise I’d have been a fool to, the sumptuous brown butter sauce suitably warming the cockles on this cool autumn evening.
We have split opinions on the third dish, which comprises a side of skiitake mushrooms with brown butter crumb and elderberry capers. The earthy notes, cut through with little pops of caper sourness, prove too rich for my dining companion, who proffers his final few bites. I gleefully take them: it’s one of my favourite flavour combinations of the evening. The mains are really something to be reckoned with, though – malt-glazed celeriac every bit the comforting vegan autumnal dish you would expect, served with fermented potato sauce, pickled elderberries and kale. The meat option of Sheffield Farm bull, served with aronia berries, red russian kale and reduced fat, is also a great contender for dish of the evening, expertly balanced and washing down a treat with our wine. A ‘mother’ cracker made of leftover yeast from breadmaking, topped with Neal’s Yard Stilton and hawthorn and rowanberry jelly, ties us over until pudding.
While our bowl of vegan pumpkin seed ice cream, fig leaf oil and furikake – the latter of which we’ve noticed has been popping up across vegan menus everywhere – is not an obviously sweet dish, it’s one of the best desserts we’ve had for months. We eventually leave after close, feeling £130 is more than a fair exchange for such a delicious meal and excellent service.
It’s been four years since the opening of the UK’s first anti-waste restaurant SILO, and yet I am shocked that in this era of climate change awareness and eco-friendliness (particularly in a city as Green as Brighton) there are still no copycats. If Douglas McMaster’s restaurant has proven anything in the last four years – just as it did this evening – it is that delicious, nutritionally-dense food is possible without compromising on eco-friendliness. And long may it continue.
SILO is at 39 Upper Gardner St, Brighton. Tel: 01273 674259.