You don't have to be green to dig this sustainable café
Silo is a completely waste-free café, brought to Melbourne by Joost Bakker, Dutch-born sustainability architect (and the most robustly healthy man you’ll ever feel inferior beside), in collaboration with Danny Colls, an industry veteran on the café scene since the ‘80s.
Bakker's Greenhouse projects demonstrate how hospitality ventures can run (profitably) while being entirely sustainable, and we’ve been pretty excited about getting a permanent Melbourne hub since they gave us a pop-up taster as part of the Food and Wine Festival in March. Not only because of the sustainability initiatives – although they're impressive as hell. When we say waste-free, we mean it.
There are no bins here. Period. All products, from milk and whiskey to potatoes, are delivered by the suppliers in refillable vessels. Even the resulting food waste is dehydrated down into compost that goes back to the farms. No, we’re excited because the product is great. That’s what sets Silo apart. You can bang on about the benefits of eschewing beef for quinoa all you like, but nobody wants to eat cardboard and get a lecture – diners go to cafés for tasty food.
No such dilemma with Douglas McMaster in the kitchen. He’s a Yorkshire lad who has trained at nine of the world’s best restaurants including nose-to-tail eating-house St John in London, and forage friendly Noma in Copenhagen. Last year, he caught Bakker’s attention when he created a fine dining degustation entirely from off-cuts, matched with cocktails. He titled the dinner ‘Wasted’ and it won him the title of “England’s most irreverent chef”.
He seems almost overqualified, but get him talking (which you can do, since kitchen and dining space are one) and you’ll see he couldn’t be happier. The Hardware Lane venue which is a café by day, and bar on the weekends (serving the likes of West Winds gin with house-made tonic), will also host elaborate dinner parties during the week, allowing McMaster to really flex his guns.
Park yourself at the recycled communal table and watch the show as rugged farmers and whiskey-makers trundle in and out topping up supplies, while in the kitchen, oats are rolled, flour milled and milk cultured to make yoghurt. If it weren’t for the space-age Perspex covered coffee machine and gleaming cabinets you’d think you were sat in an Edwardian kitchen. They even have an official forager.
McMaster's menu is temporarily vegetarian – but it doesn’t want for lack of meat. Try the four grain salad. The rich mix of lentils, quinoa, rice and farrow fleshed out with lemon and avocado comes in a recycled jar like a zesty, edible terrarium. Or then there are the thick segments of salted and braised leeks, topped with fudge-y slow poached egg yolks. And an earthy artichoke soup, served in a terracotta pot and paired with a thick wedge of freshly baked bread and a pat of just-churned butter. Or perhaps you’d like some fruit laden muffins, or chocolate from Ghana topped with savoury cocoa nibs to go with your coffee (a blend which Genovese has created from shade grown beans sourced direct in neighboring countries – of course). It’s food you just can’t argue with, regardless of whether you drive an Audi or ride a bike.
Three further ventures are planned for Melbourne this year including a rumoured pizza and beer café, so stay tuned. For now, get to Hardware Lane and lend ‘em your fork in support.