Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Wilson’s, Redland, Bristol

For Tom Parker Bowles, this was his best lunch of 2018- 'Once again, Bristol comes up trumps. Dear god, I love this city. And dear god, I worship Wilsons...' while Tim Hayward in the FT chose it as his best meal of the year, urging his readers to experience 'something irreplaceably wonderful.' 

Jay Rayner's review couldn't resist a sardonic swipe ('A spare day in Cardiff deserving of lunch, and I know exactly where to go: the Central station. Because from there I can get on a train to Bristol. Where else would I go for lunch when in the Welsh capital?)- but that’s not the thrust here. He ended up rating his meal as “close to perfect.”

If that's not recommendation enough, CNN even polled experts and named it one of the  20 most underrated restaurants in the world

A small room, a tiny menu: three starters, three mains, 2 desserts, all changing weekly, all chalked up on a board. Wilson’s is the kind of place which some might not ‘get’. 

For some though- and I’d cheerfully count myself among them- it quickly gets into your blood, your very marrow. 

All this, a 45 min drive away? Yes, please.

Wilson’s has quickly become a Bristolian essential. Partners Ruth Wilson and Jan Ostle run the place: she brings the name, he brings the kitchen pedigree.  With experience at The Square, The Clove Club and Tom Kerridge's Hand and Flowers, he has an enviable track record.

It's a cosy space for dinner, with that one menu, low lighting and candles on small tables set close to each other. There's a convivial atmosphere here in which Jan Ostle can do his thing- and 'his thing' seems to involve everything from clearing tables and serving drinks to mingling with diners to producing a seasonal menu. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he put the bins out too. This is refreshingly down to earth, welcoming, happy-making food, but don't mistake the bonhomie for basic. 

There's a palpable enthusiasm, pride, love in the service- whatever you want to call it, it's infectious. Wilson's is one of those places you actively look forward to being asked how your meal is, because the kitchen deserves to have your praise passed along. 

A couple of trailers before the main feature: a mushroom-piped choux pastry- essentially, a savoury profiterole, all under a snowdrift of grated truffle- is a heady opening gambit, these beautifully rich and earthy flavours. 

I was expecting to hate the gurnard and blood orange soup. Childhood memories of a trout a l'orange (la-di-bloody-dah) have put me off for the fish-orange combo for life but this was a lovely balance- warming and savoury in all the right places. More subtle, less acerbic: you're in safe hands here.

A potato, chive and girolle tart (£9.50) is nothing less than an adroit balancing act, all delicate wobble in readiness to divulge its secrets within its fragile shell. It manages to surprise and seduce in short order, the fragility of its shell belying the impact of the flavours within. It's a bit of magic, quietly audacious.

To complete a clean sweep of the starters, I have two: a tartare of muntjac deer (£10.10, and  shot by Jan Ostle himself- I told you he was hands-on). It pays dividends, the characteristically delicate grain coupled with a delicate creme fraiche-based dressing.

A tranche of mackerel (
£10.50) arrives in a limpid broth, an intensely marine stock seasoned by briny oysters and peppery tickle of nasturtium. Its skin is lightly torched and a dish which still resonates brightly, weeks after.

There's some very accomplished fish cookery on show, with 
turbot and mussels (£19.50) treated with respect in a broth as vibrant in colour as it is flavour. It's a shade which puts me in mind of a pre-season game at Anfield, a lush green which speaks of hope and expectation.

The pheasant (£19.50) sauce is luxurious stuff: thick and glossy, rich and sweet. It's cooked consummately well. It comes with a take on the classic choux farci, with some serious depth to the stuffing- offal, confit thigh, breast meat, chestnuts- for a substantial main course.

I wasn't going to order dessert, what with the double starter situation- some long-buried notion of restraint, perhaps- but the sight of it being ferried to nearby tables got me all hot and bothered. That custard tart with a bay leaf ice cream wobbles its way over lasciviously. It's sultry stuff which feels just the right amount of opulent after what has gone before.

I loved this place: in the interest of balance I should mention my wife didn't, thinking the portions were small.  She can't be expected to have impeccable taste all the time, though. Me? I was planning my return before the mains arrived. This is a gem of a restaurant which elevates quality dining in Bristol even further. Among some remarkable rivals- No Man's Grace and the Michelin-starred Wilks are yards away- this place shines. Recommended, unreservedly. Wilson's is that place you fall in love with, and which loves you back. You can see yourself getting the habit of keeping an eye on what the day's menu brings: it’s precisely the kind of place you’d love in your area, your city. You sense the acclaim so far this is only the beginning for Wilson's. 

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