Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
Leading a wine tasting, in Bristol for the Jeroboam Club, on wines from Catalonia all the way down to Jumilla, I needed to be in Bristol early to decant the various wines etc. in preparation for the tasting.
All rather daunting, as I am usually the thickie in the corner at these tastings, but Spain is my passion wine wise and in so many other ways (it was actually a success with all the wines I choose, particulatly the older ones from my collection, showing very well – the Sot Lefriec 1999 was sublime),
Due to the M4 up to and including the Bynglas Tunnels being an utter joke it is increasingly pointless trying to simply leave work early to get to Bristol for 6 ish as you need to leave so bloody early (it took me over 2 hours last time on a Friday afternoon, to get to Redland and then I needed to dump stuff and get into the city centre!!).
The train would normally be an option, but not with 14 bottle of wine to transport. As a result, I decided sod it and took a half day.
The added benefit of this was I had an hour or so for lunch and rather handily my bed for the night (and kitchen for decanting) was a shortish walk from Wilsons, a restaurant in Redlands, Bristol.
This is a place that seems to be being showered with praise from the great and the good of the UK food scene.
Jay Raynor choose his review of this place to launch a rather scathing takedown of Cardiff’s culinary scene (we are getting there slowly, but surely, with the likes of Asador 44, Paysan, Nook, Ember, Milkwood, the Heathcock and Heaneys to name but a few) following criticism of his criticism while he was being rather nice about the Classroom (all very confusing it was I can tell you).
Mr. Raynor suggested that Wilsons was symptomatic of all that Bristol was and Cardiff wasn’t on the food front.
To be honest I don’t see much point in caustic comparisons between Cities (it’s all a bit my dad is better than your dad playground stuff), as all I am looking for is a good meal. To me every City, Town etc. should always aspire to be better on the food and drink front.
He has said he won’t come back to Cardiff, which is sort of understandable with the “get the pitch forks and flaming torches” ire his previous visit invoked, but its seems he has changed his mind with an appearance at the Sherman in March. I hope he eat here, as I think there have been many developments he would rather like.
Anyway back to Wilson’s.
Very unassuming on the outside,
inside it has a nice simple feel to it. Welcoming, but without any pretentiousness.
I got a cheerful greeting not only by front of house but also from the kitchen as I walked in. It is that sort of place, with the kitchen crew coming out and interacting with the diners. It was almost like being cooked for by friends (who happens to run a bloody good restaurant – these are the sort of friends I need)!
Also any place that has Nick Cave on as the background music gets an immedate thumbs up in my book, based on clearly discerning taste.
Suitably relaxed and made to feel (dare I say it) like I was with friends, despite being a solo diner, I was ready to eat.
Whilst the “short, but oh so sweet” al a carte menus most certainly appealed (with many a plaudit)
and I have heard tell that the tasting menu is👌, I was somewhat on the clock and needed my wits about me for the tasting later that day (Jeroboam Club members can ask some very tricky and obscure questions and if they don’t like the wine they won’t soft soap it). Being a clumsy oaf, double decanting 12 bottles of wine (one 30 years old – a rather rare Clos Mogador 1989 which threw an awful lot of sediment) also requires time, patience and concentration (the latter two things I am sorely lacking in).
A food and wine induced stupor was regrettable not, therefore, an option oh so tempting as it was. Also I am a tight arsed bugger and truly love a bargain.
As a result it was the plat du jour for me, which comes in at the frankly ridiculous price of £10 including a glass of wine. This is the sort of price that make you double take, then ask just to be doubly sure you have got it right and, when they confirm it is indeed the price, check for the rift in the space time continuum you have clearly inadvertently stepped through into a glorious alternative universe (of milk and yummy)!!!
You then think, OK it’s a tenner with a glass of wine so: “How good can it be for that price?”. The answer to that question was (for me) seriously bloody (I want to move to Bristol, just so I can lunch here every week) good!!!
With the ten quid price I was happily expecting (well you would) just the one plate, with no frills. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised when two amusé bouchés arrived.
The first one was a stunning chestnut mushroom and aged Cornish gouda tart (I had manhandled it a bit before I took the photo, so it wasn’t quite in the pristine condition it had been when presented to me).
The nutty smell wafting up from the plate was intoxicating stuff and boy was it packed full of flavour.
The pastry was nanometres thin and beautifully crisp. How they got it that thin is beyond me (must have something akin to the Hadron Collider out the back – a case of ” I’ve done the pastry, chef, and by the way we’ve managed to russell up a few higgs bosons berries as a “brucey bonus”).
Next up was tomato water. Water doesn’t do this justice as in effect it was distilled essence of tomato (and the best tomatoes at that)
Fabulously refreshing (cleansing the palate of the pungent gouda) and beautifully flavoured stuff, with great balance. Too weak and you would get nothing, but too strong and you would (I suspect) get too much greenhouse. Here it sat in the sweet spot for my palate.
Amusé bouchés dispatched with gusto, I assumed the plat du jour would arrive and again I was pleasantly surprised when a plate with malted sourdough, cultured butter (with a very generous heap of salt crystals – butter can never be too salty in my opinion) and delicately smoked cod’s roe with a pool of herb oil (dill I think) on top, arrived.
Simple, but highly pleasurable stuff.
On to the main event, in the form of hogget (between lamb and mutton, being more than one year old and less the two), a meat that is rarely seen on menus (although I would wager there is a lot of stuff labelled as lamb that is actually hogget out there).
Atop the hogget sat a chargrilled baby gem lettuce, which had a pleasing citrus tang to it from being glazed in lemon oil, a smoked aubergene puree and an intense jus infused with black tea (Assam I believe, with the maltiness of the tea really coming though). All worked perfectly as an accompaniment to the hogget.
The hogget shoulder itself had a deep rich flavour that comes from that bit of extra age and from the extra work the shoulder muscles had to do in that time. Cooked to a melt in the mouth tender, with a nice lean to fat ratio, it was gloriously good.
The whole ensemble had that thing that you crave from a restaurant, which is the making of the whole far greater than the sum of its parts.
Here everything was individually top quality, but together it just danced on the tastebuds. At the price point it was quite frankly remarkable.
The picture below is testimony as to how much I loved it.
I told the chef how much I enjoyed it and that I wished decorum allow me to lick the plate. He said “don’t mind us, go ahead” !!!
On a more serious note I asked how they could possibly make any money charging a tenner for food of this quality (with a glass of wine thrown in).
He said (in rather floral language – I swear like a docker so didn’t bother me) that it is rubbish to say all good food has to be pricey and that the key was going to the source and wasting nothing.
Buy a whole hogget direct from the farmer (who you have cultivated a close relationship with) and use every scrap of it. Then you can make a profit charging a tenner, it seems (still amazes me).
Cut out the cost of the middle man would appear to be a key factor in keeping the price down – I said as a lawyer I would probably be seen as the ultimate middleman (to their credit they didn’t immediately turf me out on hearing this revelation 😁).
To put the price of the plat du jour here in context, up to 6 minutes (in effect one unit, us lawyers charge per unit with ten units in an hour) of my lawyer time comes in at a significant multiple of the price of the plat du jour here (if only I took it all home)! Funny how the market works🤔.
Having enjoyed the plat du jour (with bells on) and feeling rather jolly as a result, it would have been rude not to order a dessert (and a glass of dessert wine with it). I am a sucker for a good soufflé (£10.50 on the al a carte menu) and by all accounts the Wilsons’ one is a doozy, so when they asked about dessert it was a no brainer.
Such accounts were not wrong, with this gorgeous number landed on my table – I mean just look at the rise on that!!
Light as a feather, but with enough structure to the crusted top to hold a quenelle of blackberry sorbet, this was an absolute triumph.
Great flavour to both the sorbet (intense, smacked in the face by a blackberry, favour) and the soufflé mix (more subtle, but equally lovely). The flavour and the lightness made this an utter joy to eat.
On the wine front, the list has plenty of interest. I am always happy to see a list that has more than the usual suspects on it. Here there was an Austrian grüner veltliner (lovely food wine and one to go for if having the tasting menu I would say), an assyriko (great Greek wine, also increasing seen in Australia) and a Croatian malvasia in amongst the whites and a Ribera Sacra (Spain) mencia, a Loire cabernet franc (I am loving cab. franc at the moment) and a blend from Alentejo (very underrated wine region in Portugal, itself a very underrated wine country outside of port) in the reds.
No sherries on the list and I didn’t ask if they stocked any, but assume not. If they don’t it is a shame as sherry would pair well with this sort of food. A quality oloroso would have been fabulous with the hoggot I had.
Back to the list, mark ups per bottle look pretty fair with the Rioja from Bodegas Akutain (rioja is always a good option with lamb, hogget and mutton) being priced here at £28 (retail at about £15 – it is £40 on the list at James Sommerin in Penarth) and the Mencia on the list at £35 (retailing at £18 over here).
Prices per glass do look a little leery at the 125ml glass size, so it makes sense to go large (250ml or a bottle) here (not always as option for a solo diner mind). Small quibble this though.
With the plat du jour you get a 125ml of the house white (the Côte du Gascogne – £7.00 normally ) or house red (the Domaine Alary – £7.50 normally) on the list. The obvious choice with the hogget was the red.
Easy drinking number this from the Southern Rhone, made from a blend of grenache, syrah and cabernet sauvignon (the inclusion of the latter meaning can’t be called a Côte du Rhone).
Quite fruity with a touch of spice, it worked well with the diverse flavours of the hogget dish.
With the soufflé, I went for a glass of the Saints Croix du Mont, Chateau Le Pin (£10 for 100ml and £32 a bottle – it retails at around the £26 a bottle mark), a sweet semillion blend (other grapes in the mix are sauv. blanc and muscadelle) from Bordeaux.
Nice hit of tropical fruit (predominately pineapple) on the nose, which followed through on the palate with spice and honey as it lingered (tell tail signs of botrytis – noble rot). A good level of acidity kept it from being cloying.
Chatting with the front of house and chef about wine afterwards got me a taste of the intriguing Oslavsje orange wine from Italy. Fascinating stuff (which has a remarkable 2 – 3 months of skin contact and 36 months in barrel), with rather lovely notes of hazelnuts and spice. May have to buy myself a bottle of that retail 😁.
This was a brilliant meal and the £10 price for the plat du jour (with the amusé bouchés, bread etc. and wine) makes it an utter steal. Jay Raynor may or may not have been half joking about getting the train from Cardiff, but I would do so in an instance if it was to get me to this place. It’s just brilliant. I would eat lunch here every week if I lived in Bristol.
All told I spend £31.50 (with the dessert, dessert wine and a coffee on top of the plats du jour, but sans a well deserved tip). For what I had and how happy it made me that is fab value. If I had stuck to the plat du jour and spent just a tenner it would truly have been the best tenner, I think, I would have ever spent.
As a Bristol rugby fan, I would liken the feel good factor of this meal to Bristol beating Bath (the old enemy with the rivalry going back over 130 years) 50-0 in the first game of the season, with Callum Sheedy back heeling a conversion over from the corner in the last minute to rub it in 🤣.
Would I go back? Sweet Lord, yes!!!!!
With this place and the Little French Bristol and Redlands, in particular, is truly blessed.
Address: 24 Chandos Road, Redlands, Bristol, BS6 6PF.
Tel: 0117 973 4157
Website: Click here.
Lunch: Weds – Sat: 12.00 – 15.00: Dinner: Tues – Sat: 18.00 – 22.00; Closed :Sun – Mon.