In the world of wine there are lulls and there are storms. In the following few weeks, in the way that people somehow always organise everything together, there are some big events in London. After the Real Wine Fair over next Sunday and Monday we have the big annual Canada House Tasting, followed by the London Wine Fair the following week. I’m already struggling, finding it impossible to attend an unmissable tasting of New York wines on 15th, but I do at least get to meet Blank Bottle Winemaker Pieter Walser again at a private tasting. But before that I have a few articles to send your way, including this short snippet on Silo.
You might have read about the lunch I ate at Silo in Brighton’s North Laine at the beginning of April. On Saturday we returned for dinner, most likely our last visit before they close at the end of the month, planning to reopen in (they hope) August at East London’s The Crate Brewery (Hackney Wick, E9). I just can’t resist showing you a little of what lies in store. All the food below follows Silo’s zero waste philosophy, with almost all of the ingredients sourced locally (except for things like olive oil, which nevertheless have impeccable provenance).
The wines at Silo, all natural, made without additives except in some cases small sulphur additions, are chosen by Ania Smelskaya. I was involved in an online conversation this weekend about how snooty sommeliers can spoil a meal by trying to up-sell, or indeed if they deem you not worthy to order a choice bottle from the wine list, down-sell. Ania is one of a band of intuitive and genuine wine managers in whom you can put your trust. Ania chose the wines to accompany this meal herself, from the small but beautiful list she has put together. Whilst I’m not over fixated on getting exactly the right wine for each dish, these wines “by the glass” were thoughtfully selected to go with our set menus.
We began with a couple of dishes from the “snacks” list. The raw kabu (aka Tokyo turnips) served with humous were fresh, sweet flavoured, nutty and a little earthy, and great dipping fodder. The kimchi rolls, wrapped in hispi cabbage, really are good (an under statement) and stood out, quite spicy, and although made with a local twist one bite is enough to transport you to the Far East.
The first course from the set menu was spring tomatoes on a curd base with borage, marigold, cornflower, wild rocket and mustard leaf, the foraged ingredients adding real flavour interest, not mere decoration. Tiny bits of pickled rhubarb added acidity. The green tomatoes were exquisite.
I was in heaven on dish two. I am happy to eat green asparagus (as I did last night), but I have a passion for the white stuff, which I almost never see in shops here. These spears were quite small, incredibly fresh and tender, but crunchy. They were cooked to perfection, which means not over cooked, and were served with sea kale, wild garlic flowers, and a carrot seed sauce sprinkled with aromatic alexander seeds and angelica seeds.
My main course of pan fried pollock (also sometimes called coley when locally caught off our coast) with rainbow chard, pickled samphire, mushroom powder and rosemary was a petite dish of complex flavours, perfectly judged. The fish was quite firm with a nice flavour and texture.
Dessert came as an incredible chocolate salted caramel ice cream, streaked with thick caramel. I say “incredible”, but actually, the vegan menu has green pumpkin seed ice cream, which I’ve had before and is at least as good. This dessert course was accompanied by a small and very well chilled espresso vodka martini, with Silo’s own coffee and Blackdown Sussex Vodka (distilled and charcoal-filtered seven times at the Blackdown Distillery in West Sussex).
It may seem odd to leave the bread until last. Well, first let me praise the dinner. It was the best I’ve had this year. Inventive flavour combinations, great technique in the frankly small open kitchen, and of course the results of the whole Silo philosophy, especially the locavore aspects, make the food exciting. Food to savour, not to wolf down. But Silo’s sourdough bread, however, requires a special mention.
It is made naturally, from flour they mill on site, without an added yeast proving/rising agent. There is in my humble opinion no better bread in the UK. If it has its match, it is in the bread from the Hedone Bakery in Vauxhall (and also sold at Dynamic Vines on a Saturday morning, when they open up their warehouse to the public). Silo might consider following Hedone Restaurant in opening their own bakery when they open in London. They would be queuing around the block and down to Stratford.
As an aperitif we drank the same delicious col fondo we had at lunch a few weeks ago. Rio Rocca Frisant Bianco, Il Farneto is a lees aged Sauvignon Blanc/Spergola blend from Emilia-Romagna, the second fermentation in bottle created with some of the original must. As I can’t put it better I’ll repeat what I said last time – it is fragrant, light and dry. I will add that the freshness is really to the fore, and the bubbles prickle nicely. At 11.5% abv but tasting lighter, it’s a fantastic summer picnic option.
I like a sommelier that is not afraid to give you a second sparkling wine in a “by the glass” menu matching flight. In this case it was a wine I like a lot, but haven’t had yet this year. Fuchs & Hase Vol 1 2018 is an Austrian petnat from this exciting Kamptal winery, a joint project between already well known winemakers Alwin Jurtschitsch and Martin Arndorfer. Volume 1 blends three varieties: Grüner Veltliner, Müller Thurgau and Sauvignon Blanc. The palate has orchard fruits with a lick of citrus acidity, and I think this new vintage seems to have a little more depth than the previous. Always a pleasure to drink.
More adventurous pairing came with the asparagus, Chinuri, Iago’s Wine, Kartli Region, Eastern Georgia. “Iago” is Iago Bitarishvili, founder of the now essential “New Wine Festival” in Tblisi, and maker of some of Georgia’s most highly regarded orange/skin macerated qvevri wines. Chinuri is not as well known as some other Georgian grape varieties, but it is an important variety in Kartli. If Simon Woolf, author of The Amber Revolution, reckons Iago is the grape’s best exponent, I’m inclined to agree with him. This was bottled in July 2017 (no vintage on label but the Lot Number has a “16” in it), a run of only 5,000. This is certainly an orange wine, but it is smooth and gentle, not super tannic and textured. An inspired match which I would never have considered.
The adventure continued with the pollock, although for me, a red wine was not at all a shocking pairing. The idea of pairing a wine made from a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre from Languedoc-Roussillon might have been, but Domaine les Arabesques “Ocarina” 2016 is not your average Roussillon blend. It does come in at 13% abv, yet doesn’t remotely seem that alcoholic, perhaps on account of the whole bunch fermentation. It is fairly light on its feet, fresh, elegant and full of zesty fruit, but you also get a nice umami flavour which works well with the mushroom powder and the pickled samphire.
Saskia van der Horst originally found a passion for wine as a sommelier in London. Since 2013 she has farmed just less than five hectares of old vines (aged between thirty to sixty years) at Montner and Latour-de-France (not far from Perpignan). Fermentation is in fibreglass, ageing in wood, with only a little SO2 added at bottling. I’d never drunk this before, and hadn’t even heard of the producer. I’ve definitely been missing out. Kiffe My Wines is the importer.
Silo has some special events on with which they will end their time in Brighton. Check their web site here for details and for their limited opening. Check out Crate Brewery here. Follow Silo on Instagram – @silobrighton . Lunch at Silo was here.