I am pleasantly surprised that such a complex range of intense acidic flavours all worked so harmoniously together. I am even more astonished that Rob is able to pair the perfect wine for a dish that contains pickled mushrooms!
I have been hearing quite a bit of chatter about Wild Flor since it opened towards the end of last year. I passed by this intimate neighbourhood bistro on a few occasions on the way to town in December, and could not help but peer in through the windows and have a nose at the menu, each time making a mental note to book a table once the craziness of the festive period had abated. Several friends of mine had beaten me to it, telling me I simply must go and check them out.
My social media is awash with praise and admiration for head chef Ollie Darby’s ever-evolving a la carte menu, which showcases an innovative mix of modest comfort food alongside more luxurious items, as well as for co-proprietors James Thomson, Rob Maynard and Faye Hudson who have all gained the very best experience from working for the Gingerman group, owners of some of the most successful restaurants in the area. They each bring their own diverse expertise to the mix which, just like their friendship, has been refined from years in the industry. James is the General Manager and oversees it all. Rob is an incredibly talented wine specialist whose passion for all things grape is infectious. Faye is the face of Wild Flor, overseeing all things front of house and is well-versed in the fine art of customer service, which is immediately apparent with the warm welcome we receive, on what I am now certain will be our first of many visits.
Once we settle in to our seats we are introduced to Rob who immediately gets us started with a lovely complex Michel Gonet ‘Les Terroirs ‘ Champagne to get the taste buds working, as we are going all-out with a three course meal with wine-pairing. He does explain, however, that if you prefer to order by the bottle or select a glass yourself, he is more than happy to steer and recommend to avoid wines that may conflict with your choice of food. Having starved ourselves during the day we delve straight in to some nibbles, incredibly addictive almonds, huge plump and juicy green olives, and some home-baked bread made from grains from one of the top millers in the country, served with a knob of butter sourced from a local farmer that tastes incredible. I am already in foodie heaven and we haven’t even properly got started yet!
To start, I could not help but to go for Veal Sweetbreads due to a glowing recommendation from a trusted friend who has already had the pleasure of dining here. Faye tells us they have been very popular and it is easy to see why as they taste divine! These are tender meaty morsels with a crisp shell that when bitten into reveal a unique mild flavour, expertly exaggerated by mushroom puree and a foamy delicate sherry cream sauce and topped off with delicate herbs and chestnut flakes. As I sip on a lovely drop of Beaujolais-villages Blanc, Jules Desjourneys, I marvel at how this powerful wine brings all the flavours from my plate to the forefront.
My vegetarian companion plumps for Confit Jerusalem artichoke, Salted Fennel, Chilli, Hazelnut and Pickled Chestnut Mushroom which she was absolutely delighted with. As I am the one doing the write up, I insist on trying a couple of mouthfuls and am pleasantly surprised that such a complex range of intense acidic flavours all worked so harmoniously together. I am even more astonished that Rob is able to pair the perfect wine for a dish that contains pickled mushrooms! His choice of a rather elegant ‘La Rosa’ Can Sumoi, Penedes 2018 is perfectly grounded enough to calm everything on the plate down.
As Rob passes by, I compliment him on his wine choices so far and ask what the secret is to pairing food with fine wine. He explains it is like making a sandwich. Sometimes you want flavours that go together, like ham and cheese for instance, and sometimes opposite flavours work, like peanut butter and jam. I’m guessing there is a lot more to it than that, as otherwise everyone would be a wine specialist. For now though, I’m mind blown.
For mains, I enjoy Glazed Beef Cheek with Wild Mushrooms, Cavolo Nero and Celeriac Puree, washed down with a very nice St Emilion 2010 Moulin St Georges. The beef was beautifully cooked with a crisp shell and meat that disintegrates in the mouth releasing the full taste of the most delicious and tender meat a cow has to offer. The mushrooms, Cavolo Nero and Celeriac did well to compliment but not distract from the full flavour of the meat.
My companion sticks with her new found vegetarian principles to a degree, although she could not resist trying a small mouthful of beef. Risotto of Black Winter Truffle and Aged Parmesan is her choice of main and is as velvety and decadent as it sounds! The dish is paired with an equally licentious powerful Moulin-A-Vent (2010) from the same winery as the Beaujolais I enjoyed with my starter. I could smell the truffle from across the table and was begrudgingly offered a forkful to try. Texture like silk and flavours that explode on the tongue. If I could eat like this every day I would be more than happy to give up meat entirely.
As my companion is struggling to decide what to have for dessert, Faye recommends Blood Orange Posset with Rhubarb and Shortbread from the specials board, which Rob pairs with a citrusy Malmsley Madeira, H.M Borges 15yr that has nice tropical tangerine notes that goes perfectly with the velvety creamy posset. The rhubarb adds a nice tang and the accompanying shortbread satisfies with a satiating crunch and tempting buttery-sweet vanilla flavour.
My first mouthful of Chocolate, Chestnut and Passionfruit Mont Blanc from the dessert menu had me thinking it was the most overly sweet dessert I have ever tasted, though when the citrusy passionfruit is revealed, everything falls into place. I also especially like the crunchy yet sticky meringue infused base and, as was now expected, the wine, Banyuls domaine Petri-Geraud 2010 really backed up my choice of dessert with fig, orange and coco notes to create a whole entire delightful package that tops off one of the most delightful culinary experiences I have ever had.
Our evening at Wild Flor was nothing short of spectacular. We were truly marvelled by Rob’s knowledge of fine wine, and entranced by the accompanying stories he recited about where each of his selections came from. Faye’s hospitality was second to none and everything you would expect from the finest of restaurants with none of the pretention. Most importantly, the food was exquisite. The menu is extremely well thought out, with each dish expertly prepared with the freshest seasonal local produce, and with such an exciting range of flavours. Throughout the evening, customers came and went, popping in for nibbles and a glass of vino, and given the same high level of service and attention. You really can come in and spend as much or as little as you wish and have a lovely time. An intimate private dining room is available upstairs for eight to twenty guests and is the perfect space for a celebration. Wild Flor really does tick all the boxes and I expect to see their reputation grow and grow. I have never witnessed such passion and commitment to a restaurant concept before and I wish the team behind Wild Flor the very best for the future.