Brighton’s favourite zero waste pre-industrial food system café – in fact it’s the only one – has recently expanded its opening hours having been granted an extended late licence.
For those who are not already aware of Silo their ethos is this: “Respect for the environment, respect for the way our food is generated and respect for the nourishment given to our bodies”.
This means that produce is locally and ethically sourced; food is not unnecessarily processed and waste is not an option.
Having not been to Silo previously it struck me as a very utilitarian space. The décor may not be to everyone’s taste – anything even slightly decadent would be missing the point – but certainly has its own style. I took a seat at the bar – fashioned from salvaged materials of course – and hoped that the food would be slightly more indulgent than my surroundings.
On my visit there was either an omnivore or herbivore menu to choose from; I clearly went for the omnivore – although had a few tastes of the herbivore as well.
First up we were presented with pork scratchings with a blood-flavoured brown sauce. A pleasant enough start although I prefer my scratchings less fluffy and more like the ones you get down the pub. The sauce was tangy and fruity as you would expect from a brown sauce.
Next up were crispy pigs ears with corn and an egg yolk served with a nettle beer. I am not a big fan of sweetcorn but the sweet juicy morsels that were placed in front of me were nothing like I’d had before; an absolute revelation. They were so good I pretty much forgot about the pig’s ear – which was crisp and flavoursome – and the perfectly poached egg yolk. The accompanying ginger-flavoured nettle beer was delicious and far too easy to drink.
For us omnivores we then had halibut with salsify and pickled mushrooms. The fish was very tender and meltingly soft with a subtle flavour. Unfortunately the mushrooms and accompanying broth were overbearing and so the more delicate elements of the dish were unable to compete.
I had a taste of the herbivore option consisting of cloud like ricotta dumplings combined with blue cheese and fennel which was as delicious as it sounds.
The main event was venison with heritage carrots and a carrot puree. The meat was perfectly cooked with a wonderful pink juicy centre. The puree was velvety smooth and a joy to eat, so much so I want to know how it was made. The carrots were over-cooked and so had lost their character; but the little bramble berries that came with it were fabulously sweet and sharp and lifted the dish.
Finally the desserts were placed in front of us. The sea buckthorn with an oat panna cotta, celery and rose was not for me. Odd flavour combinations and some interesting textures just disagreed with me; celery in a dessert just seems wrong. The corn based dessert with toasted rye seeds and a corn granita was a much better offering. The delicious corn from earlier was rehashed and presented in a new format. The rye seeds were crunchy and resembled toasted pop-corn which was a pleasing homage to the main ingredient of the dish.
Before I attended this event there was something about Silo that I did not want to like. Whist I agree with the ethos I find the way it is presented a little off putting. Sustainability is obviously important and respecting produce and not over-processing foods is vital; but why do drinks have to be served in jars.
After listening to head chef and owner Douglas McMaster talk about his food and see him cook I have softened to the place. The food is cooked with love and is of a high standard. Yes there were a few unusual dishes but on the whole I enjoyed my meal; not to mention the little extras such as the excellent bread baked on site.
If like me you are put off by the marketing try to look past this and give it a try – you might just like it. Silo is now open Thursday to Saturday evenings until 11pm and is featuring a new wine list.
39 Upper Gardner Street
01273 674 259
This review first appeared in the Friday October 30th Brighton and Hove Independent and can be viewed here