Silo restaurant review: where fine dining meets radical environmentalism
The Hackney Wick zero-waste restaurant symbolising sustainable environmental change while remembering that fine dining is supposed to be fun.
Sitting atop CRATE Brewery above the bustle of Hackney Wick you will find Silo Restaurant occupying a large white converted warehouse, looking over the canal boats lined up one by one on the River Lee Navigation.
Opening in Hackney Wick in 2019, Silo has been hailed as the world’s first zero-waste restaurant, rejecting the notion of the bin and leaving no scrap of waste unused or uncomposted.
Led by chef Douglas McMaster, Silo is ambitious in its total rejection of waste, and its innovative culinary techniques are a far cry from Roman Road’s trusty pie and mash with jellied eels.
The building’s lofty warehouse ceilings and exposed metal beams lend it that unmistakably ‘Hackney’ feel, though the spacious dining area is warmly-lit and the sound of cooking from the open-plan kitchen creates a gentle background buzz.
The restaurant operates as much as possible on a closed-loop system, with plates made from upcycled plastic bags, lampshades fashioned out of seaweed, and the menu projected onto white-washed walls to save paper.
Unrecognisable from the hot-headed scenes of Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares, Silo’s chefs move around the kitchen calmly and instinctively, each focused on one of the 11 plates that comprise the restaurant’s seasonal tasting menu.
While diners can opt for vegetarian and vegan options, Silo intentionally doesn’t have an à la carte menu so it knows exactly how much produce it needs to minimise waste.
Through intricate processes of fermenting, reducing, caramelizing and smoking, 98% of the food that comes through Silo’s doors ends up on customers’ plates in some way, shape or form, compared to most other restaurants that waste about half of what they purchase.
The result is a truly unique dining experience, revolving around an ever-changing menu where almost every plate contains remnants of another, as garums are adjusted, garnishes modified and creams altered depending on which ingredients are available.
Sitting at the restaurant bar feels a bit like getting front-row tickets to a theatre production, with a view of the open-plan kitchen fit with its own flour mill and open fire pit, lit up as if by spotlights on a stage.
So close to the action, on one occasion the chef casually handed us a plate of braised savoy cabbage across the bar, explaining the origin of every ingredient right down to the pine needles foraged from Victoria Park earlier that week.
Though Silo’s menu is always in flux, one dish they refer to as their ‘quavers’ is a permanent fixture, and having tasted it, it’s easy to see why. Two large crisps made from surplus vegetable skins are glazed with a leftover vegetable treacle and topped with a cloud of frozen goat’s cheese that melts as it touches your tongue. This stand-out snack is a real delight.
Purple heritage carrots are doused in a rich chicken sauce made from the chicken wings from last season’s menu. And the restaurant’s starter and namesake ‘Siloaf’ sourdough is reincarnated as an ice cream sandwich drizzled in caramel syrup to finish the meal.
The dizzying complexity of the menu and the technical know-how required to achieve Silo’s zero-waste dream might sound like a radically serious setting for a relaxing evening. But the restaurant’s knowledgeable staff set a convivial and unpretentious tone, a hard task in a restaurant where the full menu plus drinks pairing will set you back about £125 per person.
In spite of the cost being a significant markup from the likes of Lanterna just across the canal in Fish Island, Silo is still a hot spot for Hackney Wick’s young and perenially cool clientele, drawn to East London for its many fine dining destinations and enterprising independent businesses.
While no-waste cooking is on trend with diners increasingly expecting sustainable options, the likes of Silo’s fallow venison with a smoked long pepper glaze and celeriac leaf oil, is hardly going to be replicated by home cooks. And very few restaurants are likely to have the resources or know-how to mimic Silo’s methods.
And in the grand scheme of things, Silo is aware that one restaurant’s zero-waste mission makes little difference to the wider environmental impact of the food service industry, which accounts for 26% of greenhouse gasses caused by food waste. But McMaster is driven by his belief that ‘ideas are powerful, and good ideas will flourish in the right environment with the right degree of openness. This is how we can make an impact.’
And above all the restaurant’s ambitious environmental aims, it is the rich flavours and creative combinations of Silo’s impeccable plates that stick with you as you descend the steps down to the canal, back to a reality where quavers are just a packet of Walkers crisps.
If you enjoyed this article, find our restaurant review of E3 Vegan on Roman Road.
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