Keith Miller reviews Silo, London: 'An unembarrassed thirst for beauty in all areas' 

Silo, London
An upmarket reboot of a zero-waste pioneer wows our critic Credit:  Clare Lewington

Having fessed up last time to a fondness for the Horror Channel (Freeview 70; other providers may vary), I suppose I may as well pile on the shame by admitting I’ve been hugely enjoying its weeknight reruns of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s puppet-free and notionally grown-up Seventies sci-fi soap opera Space: 1999, in which a nuclear waste dump on the moon blows up, blasting its host planetoid, along with around 300 moderately diverse and blandly handsome young space-wallahs led by John Cassavetes lookalike Martin Landau, out of orbit.

Last week we moved frictionlessly on to series two, complete with enhanced production values, improved film stock, bigger explosions and (marginally) better special effects.

But here’s the thing. Series two is no good. Not that series one can be enjoyed in an entirely irony-free way, or that Peter Cushing in gold face paint is any more intrinsically convincing as a superintelligent alien than Brian Blessed in a PVC wig. But as the budgets were ramped up, something was lost: a dreaminess or trippiness; a sense that the characters were profoundly alone, playing out their scenes amid the eternal silence of infinite spaces.

Silo, Doug McMaster’s pioneering zero-waste restaurant, has just bagged a second season. It opened five years ago in Brighton, where McMaster subsequently raised locals’ hackles by suggesting they weren’t sufficiently forward-thinking to truly appreciate his Concept.

Silo 1.0 seems (I never went) to have been whimsical and hippyish, with lots of upcycling, chipboard surfaces, communal zinc-topped tables, that sort of thing. (The Brighton backlash against McMaster appears, as far as one can glean, to have stemmed from a slight mismatch between the let’s-do-the-show-right-here ethos the restaurant espoused and the prices it charged.)

Credit: Matt Russell 

Many of McMaster’s innovations have gone mainstream since 2014: hyperlocalism, and a kind of Occam’s razoring of suppliers down to a minimum; a St-John-derived nose-to-tail philosophy applied to plants as well as animals; a virtuous circle of relationships with nearby creative industries whereby surplus materials can be pooled and re-used in efficient yet imaginative ways.

So when he reopened last week, in a chic-rustique warehouse conversion in Hackney Wick, a little quarter of east London that’s apparently been blasted out of orbit around East Berlin, the stakes had been raised: he’d be in competition not just against the purity of his own purposes, but a vastly bigger restaurant scene, packed with imitators and fellow travellers.

Perhaps inevitably, the strategy has been to go upmarket. The scruffy, graffiti-festooned canalside block where Silo is based couldn’t be more different in feel from the restaurant’s lofty, sparsely beautiful first-floor interior.

Recycled and/or organic materials – leather, glass, cork, even mycelium – are deployed with a sculptor’s feeling for texture. Even the exposed insulation material in the rafters looks somehow classy, like billowing standards in a renaissance castle.

The room is dominated by an L-shaped bar, along which all the twos are arranged. At the corner is a great hearth, where much of the cooking (or finishing – there’s plenty of brining, steeping, pickling and sous-vide-ing beforehand) is done. I didn’t ask where the wood burnt here is sourced – let’s hope they have their Hetas Certificate of Compliance – but Silo’s extensive use of fire lends its food a wonderful consistency of flavour, as it does at storied 2018 openings Brat and St Leonards.

It’s a six-course tasting menu for £45 or nothing at the moment, though they are planning to do brunch soon. Drinks pairings are another £50. I don’t usually do these, partly on the grounds of cost, but also because I’m afraid I don’t like having just one glass of anything I’ve even vaguely enjoyed.

"Neglected materials can be fashioned into something beautiful and useful – luxurious, even"  Credit: Matt Russell

I have to say, though, that this one was more than worth the candle – full of good things, aptly tailored to the food, original and surprising. (Cider with pudding! “Cocktails masquerading as wines”! A sour beer from the impeccably hyperlocal Crate Brewery downstairs!) Sommelier Ania Smelskaya led us through the line-up with such effervescence that we assumed she, too, had undergone a second fermentation in the bottle.

Still, with service – and the service was excellent, albeit excellent in the faintly cultish way you’d expect of such an ethically charged enterprise – you’re looking at a shade over £100 a head, and if the whole thing isn’t to be some terrible radical-chic dumbshow for the virtue-signalling rich, the food had better be good. And it is.

Some of it is great: beetroot with perfumed Mexican marigold; an obscure short-rib-like cut of superannuated dairy cow, cooked unimaginably slowly then served with “emerald kale”, the leaves whizzed into a sauce, the stalks sliced thin and crisped up like winter trees; a quince sorbet crowned with a puddle of fig-leaf oil the impossibly intense iridescent greeny-blue of a peacock’s tail.

At the end of dinner, McMaster himself came over. He was brandishing two knives – is this how it ends, I asked myself – but he just wanted to show us that neglected materials (a few splinters of wood, a steel pipe, some scrap metal) can be fashioned into something beautiful and useful – luxurious, even.

I think that unembarrassed thirst for beauty is what I loved about Silo, and the reason why enhanced production values needn’t spell doom for its creative mojo. They might want to take the Jerusalem artichokes off the menu if they want to cut down on those unwanted emissions, though.