Nestled above a cheese shop on Brixton’s Market Row, Salon is a bar, wine shop and restaurant serving up interesting and innovative small plates made with the best seasonal and local ingredients. Along with creating delicious and experimental dishes, Salon has an ethos that is centred around food with a focus on local sourcing, reducing food waste and giving back to the community.
The restaurant’s seasonal menu changes from week to week and is served in a friendly and informal manner that gives you the flavours of fine dining without the pretentious pomp. The bar menu shouldn’t be overlooked as it offers a range of nibbles and small plates that make the perfect companion to a list of organic and biodynamic wines—the irresistible ‘nduja croquettes, which are perfectly crisp with a subtle sweetness and a fiery kick, are a perfect example.
We spoke to head chef and founder Nicholas Balfe to find out more about how this neighbourhood restaurant is pioneering the way in terms of sustainable dining.
In what ways does Salon work to reduce food waste?
Reducing our waste is a big strategic goal for our business—not just because it’s better for our bottom line, but because we are acutely aware that as food professionals, we have a responsibility to act as sustainably as we can. As well as the usual efforts in terms of recycling and energy efficiency, we are also committed to reducing our waste by turning by-products of food production into new products; whether that’s using ‘spent’ milk from frothing coffees to make ricotta, fermenting vegetable trimmings to make condiments and misos or turning our bread ends into crackers, we’re constantly looking for alternative uses for everything.
How does the location of Brixton Market fit in with the restaurant’s ethos?
The great thing about Brixton is that it has connected us to a huge community of likeminded people, both in and out of the industry. The biggest development has undoubtedly been meeting Roy, who looks after our allotment in West Norwood—about a mile from the restaurant. Now not only do we have an outline for [turning] green waste [into] compost, we can also grow our own fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers.
What ingredients does your allotment provide?
We’ve been working with our allotment for almost a year now. Last year we were able to serve the most incredible sweetcorn, pumpkins, tomatoes and so on, as well as more exotic ingredients such as cho cho (chayote) and cucamelon. This year we are looking to refine what we grow and create a more symbiotic relationship between what can be grown and what the restaurant can use—a huge challenge, but incredibly fulfilling, nonetheless!
Do you work with any local suppliers to source your ingredients?
As well as the allotment, we do as much as we can to support local and small-scale suppliers. We enjoy working with Food Chain, an organisation that facilitates small food producers supplying goods to London restaurants. We volunteer at Brixton Community Garden, where we’ve picked everything from apples to gooseberries to nasturtiums to turmeric root over the years. We also have the best Iranian cash-and-carry around the corner, our go-to spot whenever we want spices, dried herbs or unique, Middle Eastern ingredients.
What does Salon do to give back to the local community?
We work with lots of local charities and community groups in the area, most notably the People’s Fridge, a food bank in Pop Brixton, and Brixton Soup Kitchen, run by the larger than life Solomon and Mahamed—two bona fide pillars of the local community.
Do you engage in any social initiatives?
We do as much as we can to maintain a demographic mix amongst the team. Having a mix of people from different backgrounds with different personalities at Salon means our business is full of vibrant energy and has many sources of inspiration to draw upon.
We’ve also just started working with Key 4 Life, a charity that helps ex-offenders find their way back into society. We’re looking forward to seeing this relationship progress over the months and years to come.
What can we expect from Salon in the future?
It’s vital that restaurants set the standard for what can be achieved in terms of sustainable food production. We work with food day in [and] day out, so we have no excuse for waste reduction not to be high on our agenda. Going forward we aim to continue to build sustainable practices into our operational systems and business plans.