Food: 10 Drink: 8.5 Atmosphere: 9.5 Overall: 9.5
The increasing trend among diners to understand the connection between the ingredients on their plate and the land that produced them has led to a spike in sustainable eating-out. People want to know exactly what is in their meal, and precisely where it’s come from, distancing themselves from unethical air miles and pesky unwanted additives in the process. This means that in recent years there has been a global shift within the world of fine-dining towards seasonal and local produce. The epitome of such ‘field-to-table’ dining is Dan Barber’s Blue Hill Farm group, currently ranked No. 11 on the World’s Best 50 Restaurants list and featured on Series 1 of the Netflix hit series ‘Chef’s Table’(if you’re a foodie and haven’t seen this series, it’s the bees’ knees). Wilsons, the independent English bistro on Chandos Road, does exactly this, with a hearty helping of ethical conscience to match.
An elegant yet unpretentious restaurant interior hinted that Wilsons’ magic would lie in the focus on their food, and we were certainly not disappointed. With chunky kilner jars full of various homemade vodkas jumbled together on the bar, and the daily menu scribbled onto a blackboard on the wall, this restaurant’s magic lies in its stunning simplicity. Wilsons’ confidently small menu reflects their sensitivity to seasonal flavours and locally supplied produce. In the autumn and winter months, nearly all of the game and vegetables on the menu are sourced or grown by head-chef and co-owners Jan and Mary themselves, who were both on-hand throughout the meal to explain these processes. The minimalist menu boasts simple but adventurous flavours, usually offering just one meat, one fish and one vegetarian option per course. During the –marginally- sunnier months of the year, the fruits and vegetables woven into the menu are mouth-wateringly fresh: expect perfectly cooked asparagus, divinely creamy cheeses and –the most surprising of all- pork fat, whipped to a silky smooth texture that will have you feeling oh-so-guiltily coming back for more...
The unexpected -but gratefully devoured- tasty morsels (or ‘amuse-bouches’ if you’re feelin’ super fine-dining) brought out in between courses by head-chef Jan himself –are made incorporating typically discarded ingredients with a view to minimising food waste. When we visited this winter, these included earthily delicious mushroom profiteroles and pheasant broth. In the spring, true to their ethos of using seasonal ingredients, tasters came in the form of delicately thin squid ink crackers, as well as a mesmerising bowl of –what appeared to be- water, however having embarrassingly avoided dipping my fingers in it (that’s what you do in posh restaurants, right?) I discovered that Jan and his kitchen wizards had turned this water into the most intensely flavoured, sun-ripened tomatoey goodness, to be slurped at will. That speaks for a lot of the magic of Wilson’s: they succeed - with flying colours - in elevating their ingredients to a whole new level of bells and whistles (or foams and powders).
When we went in December 2017, we started with the pheasant sausage and sprout leaves, closely followed by a main course of roasted cauliflower with pomegranate seeds, truffle shavings, cauliflower purée and golden raisins. A failure to guess how cauliflower (a vegetable scarred in my memories as the numbingly boring relative of steamed broccoli) could constitute a whole main course saw me eat my words, and then demand seconds. With a constantly evolving seasonal menu, if your parents, or any possible bill-footing friends (Wilsons’ prices tragically aren’t student-wallet friendly) are down soon, catch this dish before it’s gone. These two mains were a tough act to follow, but we surely could not leave without dipping into their enticing dessert menu. We topped off this special meal with a delicate tarte-tatin, served with rich and creamy homemade ice-cream. We also had the divine pleasure of sampling Wilson’s bitter chocolate delice with homemade stout ice-cream… nuff said. In summer, expect zingy, fruity flavours that jump off the plate, cooled by fresh yoghurt and various sugary crumbs. Regardless of what time of the year you have the privilege to eat at Wilsons, we cannot recommend it highly enough.
Wilsons has hot competition on historic Chandos when it comes to eating out. But while it might not have the Michelin star that Wilks does, or the frankly mesmerising fairy-lights in No Man’s Grace’s windows (perhaps not their desired selling point), from the outside in it does seem to have the happiest, least pretentious atmosphere. While I’m sure many would argue they deliver different styles as well as substances, I’d certainly choose Wilsons over Wilks any day of the week. With a winning combination of top quality food, charming service and a sustainable ethos, it is without a doubt some of the tastiest food I’ve had during my time in Bristol.