Sunday, 24 August 2014

Wilks, Bristol

Wilks is a modern, understated yet sophisticated and  informal yet fine dining experience. Their set-lunch menu gave me an opportunity to try three well presented, locally sourced and skilfully cooked courses for a mere £20. Relatively speaking, this is great value. Eating out generally isn't cheap. Yes, there's the odd lunch spot gem that leaves you well fed for a fiver, but all too often am I found resolutely uninspired by a mediocre main course that costs £12. The only value of which is to create a momentary and reasonably deluded sense  of  cooking skill superiority.  That's a positive right? Sometimes its fun to feel better than everyone else. I digress. The accomplished and attentive cooking at Wilks demonstrates what talent lies out there, if you know where to go...
Bread selection
The atmosphere was lovely, the décor is calm, simple and with a good attention to detail. The restaurant isn't big, the combination of the place's size and the well placed tables (there's a good distance between) creates a pleasing ambience. The waiters were very professional but not overly formal. They were friendly, relaxed and most importantly knowledgeable. With thick French accidents they proceeded to charmingly describe each delicate plate full that we received. The whole sexy French waiter theme that Wilks has going on is a bonus not to miss for 'ladies who lunch'.

The front of house persuaded us to have the bread as an appetizer and assured that we wouldn't be disappointed. A selection of five organic freshly baked breads arrived with olive oil and butter. She was right, the bread was very good and a worthy treat. As a side note, I enjoyed the butter knives that cleverly stood up. The sharp knife that came with my main course was also well designed.  Whilst we indulged in the bread selection, an amuse-bouche arrived. I've never received this before, so it was a pretty exciting moment within my personal culinary journey. Two little bites to give a taster of what the chef has in order for us. Salmon with creamy cheese and Yew's curd with caramelised onion. I preferred the later, but both were good.

 To start I chose a saffron risotto with parma-ham and fennel seeds. This was beautiful, rich and creamy. Saffron used in such a way brings a warming glow of yellow to the plate. The starters were well portioned. So often with fine dining I feel I'm having to savour each mouthful a little too much due to the minuscule helping size. My dad had pan-fried guinea fowl, spinach, trompettes (mushroom) and poached duck-egg. This was a deliciously rich starter that suited the lighter fish-main that he opted for. 

Guinea fowl - starter
Saffron Rissotto - Starter

An array of richness

For the main, both my parents had John Dory Fish served with a delicious sauce - I tried a little of everything. It was quite creamy and complemented the delicate fish well. The sauce played a pinnacle role with both the mains we ordered, but particularly with this one. It really made the dish. The French beans that accompanied with fish were 'Coco de Paimpol' according to our waiter very famous in France. They were comparable to butter beans and worked well with the crunchy romanesco that were studded around the otherwise creamy plate. I really love romanseco broccoli and wish I could eat it more! Where do I buy these crunchy green gems? To me these edible flower buds look like miniature green palaces in some fictional vegetable wonderland.  

John Dory fish - Main
 As my main I had local deer haunch (from bath). This dish was full of flavour and right up my street. The meat was perfectly cooked medium-rare and well rested. The sauce, and particularly the Juniper jus teamed with the butter-nut squash purée and tender deer to produce a heavenly melt-in-the-mouth delight. The slightly crispy onion was a welcome texture amid a very comfortingly soft mouthful. The meal was well presented and the colours aesthetically pleasing.

I was pretty full after my satisfying two-courses, but what's another £3? An offer not to be turned down I say. I chose the panna cotta. Not the kind of choice I normally make but the other option involved meringue. I'm not a meringue fan - although I'm sure Wilks would have done it well as the flavour combination sounded awesome (chocolate, coffee, almond and vanilla - yes please). The panna cotta came in an elegant bowl and was dotted with lushness: sweet blackcurrants, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. Personally, crème -brulees are a classic that I think are pretty easy to do well. Panna-cotta however, is more tricky. The chef at Wilks did a very good job. The strawberry sorbet atop the creamy-smoothness had a well-judged sweetness. The crispy ring that majestically adorned the dessert was not only a feast for the eyes, the brittle texture took the creamy dessert to the next level of complexity. A welcome bit of crunch and vanilla caramel sweetness. 


My dad opted for the cheese: local Stilton and cheddar. Served with quince jelly, sliced pickled walnut, grapes and some more of the fantastic fresh bread. The sliced walnut was a nice touch, hadn't seen it served like that before. 

All-in-all it was a wonderful experience. We felt really content upon leaving Wilks and will definitely go again for a special occasion.  I just love that feeling when you have enjoyed taking your time to eat, lapping up the social dimension of food and consuming some quality local ingredients. Ain't nothing better.

p.s. Wilks has 1 Michelin star. I think this is my first ever Michelin star experience. COOL. Totally worth it - well done Wilks.

Quick Rating:
Service: 5
Atmosphere: 4
Treat Worthy? 5
Value for Money: 5 (for the lunch menu)
GF/DF/Vegan Options? Not a place for vegetarians or vegans if you are going at lunch as the choice is very limited (one fish dish, one meat as the mains). The a la carte has more to offer and has vegetarian options. Additionally when you book you can warn them of any dietary requirements, I would imagine that they'd be as accommodating as possible but I don't know for sure.  I think avoiding gluten would be reasonably easy, but again you'd have to tell them in advance. No explicit GF options. 

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