Silo is London’s award-winning zero-waste restaurant, located in Hackney. The original venue gained international recognition in Brighton for five years before landing in the big smoke, with a concept centred around ‘not having a bin’ – the challenges this poses and the solutions it inspires.
I visited for the first time on a cold, dark night in January last year and honestly, I haven’t stopped fan-girling over them since. At a time when every restaurant seems to be touting its sustainable credentials, Silo continues to stand out in a league of its own.
What actually makes a restaurant ‘sustainable’?
I can’t be the only one starting to think that the term ‘sustainability’ is in danger of being completely worn out by the hospitality industry. Everywhere I look these days, it feels like I’m being told that the food that I’m eating or the venue I’m ordering from is ‘doing good for the planet’, ‘cleaning the oceans’ or ‘helping us all to do our bit’.
If only it were so easy to save the planet.
Take for example, the Michelin Green Star that’s awarded to a select handful of such ‘sustainable restaurants’ every year. By Michelin’s own admission “every Green Star restaurant is different and works in its own unique way,” but as the Sustainable Restaurant Association points out, “with no transparent, measurable criteria, it’s hard for restaurants to know what they’re being rewarded for – and for others to know what they are supposed to be working towards.” It’s a code that’s even harder for the average restaurant punter to decipher, when so many restaurants are getting on the eco-bandwagon.
But if there’s one thing that can be said about Silo, it’s that there is no room for doubt here; finding a single element of this restaurant where sustainability hasn’t been carefully considered down to the minutest of details feels an impossible task.
Silo’s interior looks more like an edgy artist’s warehouse studio than a dining room, bordered by an open-plan kitchen where you can watch the numerous studious chefs at work. Think high ceilings, white walls, steel-framed crittal windows and a monochromatic colour scheme that has tricked my glitchy memory into believing that everyone but me was dressed in a chic black pantsuit.
The devil here, is in the details; furniture made from recycled materials, plates and glasses made from repurposed glass bottles; even lampshades made of manipulated fungus (a level of detail reminiscent of Dan Barber’s food waste pop up at Selfridges a few years ago). Even the way that the menu is presented has been carefully considered – rather than paper menus, the day’s dishes are projected onto an enormous white wall at the far end of the dining room for all to see.
Silo operates a zero-to-landfill closed-loop system, meaning all food scraps and organic waste are composted (in a £22,000 ‘anaerobic digester’, no less) and used to grow fresh produce for the kitchen. Dishes are made from ingredients that are locally sourced, organic, and in-season, and the kitchen aims to use every part of the ingredient, from root to tip.
On the night of our visit, this ethos manifests as ten dishes which can be enjoyed a la carte, or as a tasting menu for two at £50 pp. We opted for the latter, and (seeing as January is the most depressing year of the month) we added in the optional wine pairings for an extra £50 pp.
Over the course of our evening, we tuck into a ‘siloaf’ of bread with aged butter; ‘quavers’ with beetroot molasses; and buttery soft leek tops with an umami-rich fermented cuttlefish sauce (see below). Kalettes come with black garlic and apple; Jerusalem artichoke is served with Cashel blue cheese and fermented carrots; charlotte potatoes come with seaweed and caramelised cream; and king oyster mushrooms sit atop nutty fermented grains (koji porridge). The only carnivorous dish of the evening is a beautiful piece of smoked, locally-shot wild venison with celeriac and a piquant Sichuan peppercorn sauce.
Throughout dinner, the service is well-paced and attentive, and our seats at the bar let us watch each course as it’s prepared, up-close. The staff are friendly, but quite serious; I interpret this as a sincere passion for everything being done here, and who could blame them? It’s so impressive.
We reach the end of our dinner with just enough room to fit in two sweets – first, a sour yoghurt topped with rhubarb and quinoa. Then, in a clever nod to Silo’s whole circular approach, an ‘siloaf’ ice cream sandwich made from the very same ingredients that kicked off the evening’s feast some two-and-a-bit hours ago. By the end of dinner, both of us are grinning ear to ear.
I loved dinner at Silo. The cooking is meticulous, wildly creative and most importantly for a restaurant – yes, it’s delicious. But I won’t deny that I am an absolute sucker for food that makes you think, that sparks excitable conversation about bigger and more important issues than whether the head chef deserves a Michelin star or not.
This is one-of-a-kind, forward-thinking stuff. It goes above and beyond, not only to promote, but to truly embody sustainability in the food industry. It’s hardly surprising that this innovative approach to zero-waste dining has gained international recognition and inspired other chefs and restaurants around the world to adopt similar practices.
As a Time Out review succinctly put it,
“At £50 a head, it’s on the pricy side for Hackney, but this is still a bargain for the league it’s playing in. Eating at Silo is about more than just the service, setting and food. It’s about what it’s trying to achieve.
No, not trying. Succeeding.”