Douglas McMaster is on first-name terms with each of the farmers he trades with. He can also tell you, off the top of his head, where they are located. On the evening I dine at the chef’s new Hackney restaurant, he’s sourced two types of broccoli from “two different women based just off the M11”, a fact he shares keenly from his kitchen’s open-plan prep station.
When McMaster launched Silo in Brighton in 2014, it was the world’s first zero-waste restaurant. McMaster refers to it as a “closed-loop” food production process, which means that everything – from the food to the furniture – is made from scratch, and what would be waste is instead repurposed. Thus, there is no bin but rather a high-tech composting system (which is also used by the restaurant’s neighbours); there are chopping boards made, somewhat self-referentially, from old chopping boards; and where glass bottles can’t be sent back to their suppliers, they’re crushed up and made into lampshades.
The same approach applies to the food, which is as enlightening as it is exquisite. Currently the restaurant offers a six-course tasting menu (£45), its dishes constructed from an ever-changing crop of produce that is showcased on a great three-tiered hearth at the heart of the kitchen before being served up on plates made from recycled plastic bags. It’s all ingenuitive: barbecued carrots circle a pool of “egg-yolk fudge”, rainbow radishes form curls of ricotta-filled cannelloni, cuttlefish is lifted by white kimchi, and a quince sorbet emerges gloriously as the meal’s unpredictable winner.
The drinks pairing (£50 in addition to the tasting menu), conceived by sommelier Ania Smelskaya, ranges from sour beer by Crate Brewery downstairs, biodynamic wines from East Sussex vineyard Tillingham, and Mr Lyan’s bottled cocktails, by Ryan Chetiyawardana, with whom McMaster runs Hoxton cocktail restaurant Cub. The selection is served with an enthusiasm that encapsulates the restaurant’s mantra. There’s a quest underway here to change the way we consume food. Yet where a dish can be beautiful, it will be. If there’s a plant-based alternative, it will feature. Silo is leading the way where hopefully many more will follow.