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Ela sashays into Silo
123 Hardware Street City, www.byjoost.com/silo
Well, the theme this week has been all about buying less and living sustainably, and one Melbourne cafe has got all that wrapped up.
The 'Joost' who’s behind this 'Silo' is Joost Bakker, a Dutch-born Melburnian (and not surprisingly fifth-generation tulip farmer), whose first contact with the hospitality world was through supplying some of the city’s top restaurants, cafes and bars with floral arrangements, and then quirky vessels in which to display them.
The first Melbourne diners really saw of Joost, was his 2008 pop-up restaurant 'Greenhouse by Joost', which appeared at Fed Square, and last year returned to the banks of the Yarra for the Food and Wine Festival. The temporary structure was designed to be completely sustainable and waste free, and it became the template for Silo.
Waste-free means exactly that. Milk, mineral water, olive oil and gin are all delivered in re-usable containers, vegetables come in crates that are returned to the farms, and any organic waste from the kitchen is processed on site into nutrient-rich fertiliser that they take back with them too. For sandwiches and desserts, organic grains are milled in-house to create flour. When no-one would deliver soy milk in recyclable containers, they started making it themselves!
And so, my lunch in Hardware Street. Silo is easy to miss, the only sign we could see was painted on the door which was soon opened for fresh air on a sunny day so later patrons were on their own when it came to deciphering its location. It’s a compact space, up the back there’s a 15-seat communal dining table, and then one lonely table and the front and a few more available in the laneway outside.
So it’s a bit cosy, and it was certainly busy – but its staff by affable (mainly) blokes who make sure everyone knows where they’re at and if or when they’ll get a seat. It’s a simple menu – at lunch there’s a soup of the day, a four grain salad, grilled asparagus, a mysterious dish known only as 'Brown Rice', and an iceberg salad. There are some sandwich options at the counter, and generally a special (although on this day the mutton wasn’t ready yet).
There’s something to be said for enjoying a meal, but also feeling like it’s doing you some good – and Silo by Joost manages to give you that feel-good vibe.
Brown rice was a quasi-risotto with caramelized onion, big oyster mushrooms, gooey cow’s milk curd, and a splattering of wild garlic flowers. It’s a gorgeously creamy dish, made all the more impressive when you learn there’s no cream or butter in it.
The asparagus was superbly simple, and probably my favourite dish of the day. Big fat stalks from Bridge Farm down in Koo Wee Rup are grilled and served with egg yolks that have been coddled at 62 degrees. Other than this it’s some melted butter (churned on the premises) and a sprinkling of seeds. Just blissful, even if some may find it pricey at $12.
From all reports the Four Grain salad is a popular choice, there’s certainly no denying the health benefits. Served in a recycled glass jar, the naming rights could almost go to Western Victoria’s Mount Zero farm – they provide the Farro, Persian red lentils, Beluga black lentils, quinoa and Olive oil for the dish. Added to these are some lemons, sliced beetroot, dune spinach and saltbush blossoms. It won’t blow you away with flavour, but it certainly won’t make you feel guilty for eating it either!
Don’t miss the desserts, and particularly the Honey Treacle Tart if it’s on offer. There’s a simple but quality booze list.
It’s an admirable concept, but at the end of the day it’s also just a really lovely cafe with some great, affordable breakfast and lunch fare. Sustainability may come at a cost, but at $10–$14 for fresh, healthy summer lunches, I’d personally say it’s worth a go.