Inside London's 'zero waste' restaurant | FT Food Revolution
The FT's Daniel Garrahan and food critic Tim Hayward visit Silo, a 'zero waste' restaurant in Hackney, which rejects the bin, makes ice cream from waste bread, turns seaweed into pendant lighting and 'upcycles' used wine bottles
Filmed by Tom Griggs and Richard Topping. Edited and produced by Richard Topping. Produced by Daniel Garrahan and Tim Hayward
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So Tim, we are here today on a beautiful day in East London. We're here in Hipster Central, Hackney, East London.
To see quite an exciting restaurant, Silo. It's a zero waste restaurant. What does that even mean?
Basically I think they keep all their waste inside. They process it. They deal with it. And they don't put anything back into the environment. They're doing their very, very best to turn this stuff away before it becomes a problem and then to deal with it sensitively when they have waste.
We've looked at all sorts of people on the subjects of sustainability going through this. And this guy is doing it more than anybody else. Everybody else we've spoken to so far is kind of aspiring to some of the stuff this guy does.
You've eaten here before. I haven't. I'm curious how that ethos translates into the dining experience. What's it like?
I think the food is phenomenal. I think he's an amazing chef. I think the place is significant. But I'll be interested to hear what you think about it.
OK let's do it. Let's go check it out.
Hey, how are you doing? Nice to see you.
Good to see you again.
Doug, this is a zero-waste restaurant. What is a zero-waste restaurant?
So a zero-waste restaurant is the idea of trying to not have a bin. Humans created the bin. The bin's a relatively modern phenomena or modern design. You could argue that it's only around 60 or 70-years-old. And trying to design it out of a food system has been my lifetime's work.
In a nutshell, the 95 per cent of what would necessitate a bin we cut out by a system change, which basically means we go to farmers, fishermen, foragers, and try and get the things that we need in reusable vessels or completely biodegradable materials. When after we've all said and done and cooked and fed customers, everything remaining in theory would be natural and therefore compostable.
95 per cent of that supply chain is farm to table. Farmers are coming in directly. You'll see outside stacks of vegetables in crates that are completely reusable that have been directly dropped this morning from the farmers.
The last 5 per cent is where it gets really challenging. So plastic is everywhere. Plastic is a virus. Plastic is very challenging to keep out of the front door.
How does it find its way in?
The 5 per cent of things that you need as a restaurant, when you need a new material, such as a blender, that comes in plastic. And trying to speak to a big industrial warehouse that you don't want that single-use plastic bag around your blender is highly unsustainable for a restaurant such as this to try and organise.
So you really, you can only take zero waste to certain...?
Well, this is... the last 5 per cent is not impossible, it's improbable, but it's not impossible. And that's where we get really creative.
So the zero-waste ethos extends from the plate to the design of this place as well?
Absolutely. Almost every material is a bespoke design made out of waste or regenerative materials. So this is a pendant, which is made out of waste seaweed and...
What inspired you to make a pendant out of seaweed? That seems extraordinary.
Well, it's one of many friends who are designers who look at waste as a raw material rather than a waste material. So instead of making a seaweed broth and then throwing the seaweed away, you see that as a raw material that can be bound together and formed into something that we can use. The lights you can see on the wall. This is our wine bottles.
So you recycle the wine bottles that you use in the restaurant? That's a lot. That's a lot of wine bottles.
Upcycle. Recycling is where you turn a thing into the same thing. A can into a can. A bottle into a bottle. Upcycling is where you turn a thing which is waste into a new thing. It transcends that thing into something with a greater value. How much would you pay for an empty wine bottle? Zero.
You probably - well, you do pay to get rid of it.
So it's a negative value. If that was the light that you wanted in your house or whatever.
Probably pay several hundred pounds.
Yeah, yeah. It's big, big dollar.
So as well as the pendants and the glass you can see on the wall, there's regenerative materials, such as the cork floor. So you're not killing a tree. You're harvesting the cork. The wool on the ceiling is from a sheep. Both are great for sound absorption and warmth. This chef's knife is... this is milk bottle tops.
And this blade is made from nitrous oxide canisters. So this is made out of waste plastic bags.
How does a plastic bag turn into something so beautiful?
Determination. Waste is waste because it's hard to do things with. To get there has taken eight years.
So yeah. I'm going to show you the pottery.
It's quite small for pottery.
So Tim, I'd like to introduce you to Mark ... We're in a bit of a tight squeeze here.
A really tight space.
Smallest pottery in Hackney Wick.
This is our little crusher. So here is where we get our little bottles that are consumed downstairs in the restaurant.
And you just...
And then they go into the machine and they are crushed. And that is what we produce.
So this is what we do. We crush the bottles, then we get this fine sand. We even look for a finer sand. So that's glass.
That's almost powder. And that would work as a glaze, I guess?
Well, we're looking into turning that into a glaze as well. So we're finding many ways we can basically no grain is wasted.
It's probably 20 per cent of all of our glass goes into this process. Certainly all of our clear glass.
All your clear glass, which is the best. That's the best recycling glass. And you're keeping that literally in house? Between that machine, and that, and this gentleman, you're effectively, the glass is not leaving the building? That's astonishing.
Look at that.
Yeah, but it also, it sparkles from the inside. It's a natural reflector.
A diamond universe. This is a beautiful semi-translucent plate made from a wine bottle.
So you can get your kilns up hot enough here to melt glass?
Well, interestingly, to recycle glass is about 1,750 degrees. We're using about 700 to 1,000 degrees. So it's 1,000 degrees cooler. So the implications of our process versus recycling is huge in terms of environmental impact.
The way this idea was born in my head was simply we were stood looking at all this single-use glass and thinking, this is not really zero-waste. We're not taking responsibility for this material in our system. We're exporting it to another system. And so I wanted to find a responsible way of processing it ourselves. From there, use that as a raw material to upcycle into things that we need.
Oh, nice. Very cool.
For me, what's important with Silo is to prove that sustainability is sexy. Luxury and sustainability can be one of the same thing. When we built these hollow legs to fit these cutlery caddies inside, there was a lot of waste. We were using a wood called ash and then cutting it into these exact plinths. And instead of wasting all of that sort of trim, we made this sculptured reception desk. And you can see the joins of all of the pieces of wood or ash. It's...
It's a work of art.
It's a work of art made from the bits of waste ash. And then the waste from that went on the fire.
This is astonishing.
The excessive amounts of surplus that is in every restaurant is what makes restaurants waste half of the food that they purchase. And so fermentation offers us a way of turning all of that surplus into magnificent things that end up not just being used, but end up defining the dish itself.
We discover flavours out of this process which then guides us to a dish. It's not the primary cuts. It's this flavour, which is so dominant, that we design around that flavour. So it's ironic that the waste is designing the dish.
And what am I seeing here? There's a Hereford fry garam. There's a goat cheese garam down there.
This is the outer leaves of a colobus cabbage. So this is a lacto fermentation, which is the old way of pickling, the original way of pickling.
So the lactic acid from the vegetable itself changes the, the pH.
Exactly. This is salt and cabbage, that's it. And room temperature and time. So that's a really simple example of the outside leaves, which are unruly and you can't put them on a plate. We take, we shred, and then we turn into kraut, which will then feed back into a dish in one way or another.
And 98 per cent of the food that comes through the door go into products and it's because of this. It gives us resistance to failing as a business because our food costs are up to 90 per cent GP, as we call it, which is a 10 per cent best case scenario food costs. So a typical restaurant is more like 30 to 50. We're 10.
So what are we looking at here, Doug?
This is the quaver. So this is the best example of upcycling fermentation. So this is the waste of the waste turned into a delicious snack. Then we've got this magical syrup. So this is the vegetable scrap treacle. And it is absolutely delightful. It's quite like a fruity marmite, which might not sound good, but it's really good.
And what goes into the treacle exactly?
So imagine all of your veg scraps that you just can't think of what to do with all gets cooked into a big vegetable soup. So it's mushy. Strain it through a sieve and the yield of the mush is like this, whereas the original veg pile was this.
And then all the nutrients and the flavours are in the water. And then you reduce that water into a syrup. So we've got the quaver, which was in this case a blue cheese miso. And then all I'm going to do is take a block of frozen goat's cheese.
And some smoked salt.
Smoked in house?
You can see the smoking log as it stands. And then we're just going to pop it onto one of our plates made from upcycled plastic bags.
Plastic bags again.
That is absolutely ridiculous. The brown glop.
The brown glop is pretty gorgeous.
Yeah, to me this is innovative cooking. This is what excites the hell out of me. This is what keeps gastronomy exciting.
Well, it's like you said earlier, that sustainability could be sexy, and you weren't wrong. What goes into your ice cream?
OK, so the ice cream is made from waste bread. The wafers made from waste bran. The syrup is made from buttermilk.
That looks glorious.
Stunning. What's the business case for doing this? Does zero-waste harm or hurt your bottom line?
The first thing I say is eight years in business, can't afford a Tesla just yet, but I'm still here. This is a pretty, I think, beautiful dining room. We are very busy. It is absolutely a valid economical design. There is no big angel investor here. I started this restaurant with £33,000 that I remortgaged my mother's house from.
That is legit. And I was picking equipment up off the side of the street and using it. Using waste and finding creative ways of turning it into things that we needed. And hopefully now the blueprint that we've created can be mimicked and replicated.
Has it been as far as... are there other restaurants out there doing anything like this? Anything close to it?
It is still that hard to do.
But bits of what you've done do.
This is like couture. You're not going to wear the things you see on the catwalk day-to-day. It will be stupid. You'd fall over. But on the other hand, it changes the way everybody dresses. This seems very much like that kind of model.
Love that analogy. That's my favourite analogy I've heard this year. That's brilliant.