Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Silo and the Old Tree Brewery

I've been wanting to eat at Silo, a restaurant tucked behind Brighton’s North Laine, for a while. Perhaps you've heard of it – it’s the UK’s first zero-waste restaurant (read more about the concept at their website). Admirable and important as that is, it was the ‘plant’ options on their menu that caught my attention – these are often vegetable ‘steaks’, slabs of fried potato or cauliflower. This appears, on the face of it, such a woefully misguided and inadequate attempt at a vegetarian main that surely no chef would include it on a menu unless it was actually a brilliant idea.

Inevitably, there are those who turn their nose up – read online reviews and you’ll find complaints about the plywood chairs (uncomfortable) and mason jar glassware (kooky), perhaps missing the point in that these items are reclaimed and so in keeping with the restaurant’s ethos. You can’t win here – I’m sure damning reviews along the lines of “you say you’re sustainable and yet these chairs are clearly mass-produced in China” would soon appear if they did anything else. It’s always funny to imagine these people sitting, sour-faced, shovelling their grilled slab of broccoli furiously around their plate, and it made me all the more determined to eat there.

Silo also houses the Old Tree Brewery. Their biography on the Silo website leans towards self-parody at times (“Thomas Daniell and Nick Godshaw had a chance meeting on a train after an anti-fracking film showing”), but their approach is genuinely interesting, inspired by “pre-industrial” methods of brewing. This includes, where applicable, the use of foraged ingredients. They also use ‘intercepted’ fruit in their soft drinks and ciders – essentially, fruit that would otherwise have gone to waste. This is exciting to me because not only is a relatively high-concept restaurant taking beer (not to mention the even less fashionable cider and perry) seriously, but actually making it an integral part of what they do.

When I visit, there is a nettle beer on offer – this is an ancient tradition, a fermented drink made with nettles, but none of the other integral ingredients of beer. Usually, I doubt I’d give it a chance, but I’m determined to taste one of the in-house brews, so I order it. It’s very good- there’s a balance of tart and sweet flavours which reminds me of dry cider, with a big citrus tang and bitter herbal notes from the nettles. The other Old Tree offerings are a perry and a lemon and lime mead, but I opt for Idle Bo, a stout from Bartleby's, a small brewery based in Hollingdean in Brighton. Bartleby's is an obvious partner for Silo – they’re a worker’s co-op, producing unfined beers which they deliver by bicycle, and similarly committed to minimising waste. The stout is rich with treacle and aniseed flavours, but lacks any kind of carbonation or condition and is served far too cold. It’s also a little thin-bodied, which actually works when accompanying my food, but probably wouldn't satisfy otherwise. There’s a decent beer in there somewhere, but this isn't the way to serve it.

The food, by the way, is fantastic. To start, I have a heritage tomato salad with smoked quinoa and what I think is some kind of tangy cheese curd. Despite my fascination with the veggie steaks, I actually end up going for a beetroot risotto, which has the ideal consistency and is packed with pieces of sweet and earthy yellow beetroot. I’d highly recommend a visit, especially as you won’t be fobbed up with some pseudo-premium lager for the sin of daring to stray from the wine list.

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