Many new openings struggle to muster one unique selling point. Yet bakery - coffee house - restaurant Silo almost has too many to mention. Business editor FINN SCOTT-DELANY talks to chef and visionary Douglas McMaster about his ambitious plans
It seems a disservice to label Silo as a zero-waste restaurant, although it is a key part of its philosophy.
The new venture, set to open on Upper Gardner Street in September, has been meticulously planned with sustainability in mind. But the approach is much more than an empty gimmick. All produce, from wine, wheat, meat and veg, will be delivered package and bottle-free.
In fact, the whole site has been redesigned around the fact it is no bin. Instead, there is a £22,000 composting machine capable of reducing 640kg of organic matter into compost in 24 hours. Founder and chef Douglas McMaster said it will be the first time such a piece of kit will have to been used in a UK commercial kitchen. The concept is based on a smaller version successfully set-up by Douglas in Melbourne.
Brighton’s Silo took root following a chance walk down Upper Gardner Street and an inspirational chat with the leaseholder, who was so impressed he went into business with the young chef.
Another innovation is Silo’s refusal to use chemicals – including handwash, bleach or washing-up liquid. Instead, they will use ‘Jesus water’, which is electrolysed and oxidised using a £30,000 machine, rendering water into a natural non-toxic anti-bacterial disinfectant more effective than soap and bleach.
To solve the problem of takeaway coffee cups, Silo will offer customers a free coffee for every five cups they return which can be shredded and composted.
Douglas explained: “In a lot of ways we’re right on our own. I don’t want to tell people how to do things but I like the idea of working with other like-minded people to implement a more conscious food system.
“I like to think this is an ideas environment, a hub of creative thinking. I want people to be inspired by the way we do things and see that considering how transparent our system will be, it’s not unrealistic.”
Such an approach could be all for nothing if there was no substance to the business. But Douglas has experience at more than 100 restaurants, including world’s best Noma in Copenhagen.
Top London coffee team ‘Dunnefrankawski’ will set up the coffee operation. Douglas explained: “Great coffee is an equal match of knowledge and skill. I’m not concerned about being the best. Like with everything we do, it’s a way of life.”
Wheat will be ground daily, for freshness, nutrition and flavour, under a pre-industrial-style food system. ‘Bean to bar’ chocolate will be stocked with cakes and in-house puff pastry made with freshly churned butter.
Self-confessed perfectionist Douglas originally planned to open a stand-alone coffee house-bakery, but his cooking expertise forced him to consider a restaurant.
His formative experience was at St John in London, where he was schooled in the art of nose-to-tail cooking – using every part of the animal.
Yet at least half of the small menu at Silo will be vegetarian or vegan.
So committed was Douglas to understanding vegetarian cooking he became a vegan for a year.
He said: “I don’t want to just cook plant-based dishes, I want to cook great plant-based dishes.
“Saying that, I honestly think I can make more difference to a sustainable meat and fish industry by sourcing and cooking it responsibly rather than not at all.
“If I can make sustainable meat exciting it will make more of a difference then going cold turkey.”
The toilets at Silo will be flushed using waste-water from the coffee machine.
The layout will be spare and stripped back, featuring innovative recycling materials such as the galvanised temporary flooring tiles that wiil be used in the construction of table tops.
Douglas added: “It’s ironic that we’re championing a pre-industrial food system by using industrial by-products in a post industrial warehouse.”
For more information, go to silobrighton.com