2017 brought me many amazing dining experiences, but one stood head and shoulders above the rest: The Wilderness.
I got to go there in December for a congratulatory dinner after completing my Masters degree, as one of the last to dine at the Dudley Street location (now closed, soon to be reopening on Bennetts Hill).
Not put off by the grey, unassuming back street The Wilderness was located on, we were rewarded with their pared back but stylish dining room, adorned with plants and foliage with sleek black tables and chairs.
Ste and I decided to try the Full Story – their 8 course tasting menu – with drinks for me, without for him, in what turned out to be one of the most exciting meals I’ve ever eaten.
The service is impeccable, but not stuffy or overly intrusive. We had water brought to us almost immediately after we sat down, the staff offered to talk us through the menu if we wanted them to (we did) and every drink and course was served with a short explanation and a smile.
Amuse-Bouche: Beetroot Waffle, Homemade Sourdough & Butter
Pretty in pink, our amuse bouche was a miniature waffle filled with textures of beetroot, for a sweet and earthy appetiser.
The Sourdough bread is made with a homemade starter that is years old, which gives it a pleasant tang of sourness, a deep flavour and a thick crunchy crust with almost sponge cake soft bread. The homemade butter was seasoned with smoked salt.
Sea Truffle Gnocchi, Squash
After a thoroughly beautiful amuse bouche, I was expecting a stunning first dish and wasn’t disappointed. Artfully presented and wonderfully flavoured, with smooth, buttery squash, light as air gnocchi, crunchy seeds and a surprise with lightly pickled onions cutting through all the richness.
The accompanying drink – Touriga Nacional – is a surprisingly light and refreshing red wine from Portugal, which paired fabulously with the gnocchi. The staff described it as a white wine drinkers red, which is why it goes well with seafood, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Sea Trout, Dashi, Wild Rice
This dish was beautiful to look at, with tiny, delicately pickled mushrooms, coral hued sea trout and glistening, crispy silver skin.
As well as a delicious dashi broth, what really made this dish so exciting was the combination of texture as well as flavour, with crackly skin and delicate, flaky fish, silky mushrooms and the addition of deep fried wild rice, which puffed up into crisp little mouthfuls.
The matched drink – Oooh Mummy! – was a cocktail of plum sake, Black Cow milk vodka and acorn essence. Fruity, smooth and with an interesting, almost piney element from the acorn essence, this drink was one of the highlights for me. When paired with the intensely savoury dashi and rich trout, it created a wonderful balance with every flavour working together.
Plaice, Cauliflower, Yeast
The plaice in this dish was butter soft, you barely needed to touch it with the fork before it flaked into perfect pieces. I can only dream of cooking fish this well. But despite such beautiful fish, for me it was actually the cauliflower that made this dish.
The baked cauliflower was crunchy and intensely savoury, the cauliflower puree was silky smooth but packing in a strength of flavour that belies its appearance – this was no token for decoration. Coupled with the delicate fish and the little explosion of saltiness from the “salty fingers” sea herbs, this dish was a real delight for the senses.
Duck, Turnip, Prunes
Duck is one of my favourite things, so this dish already had an advantage with me. Again, the presentation was beautiful: a blushing pink duck breast with crisp skin, gloriously green pak choi and a variety of textures of turnip.
The combination of tender cooked turnip and crunchy, peppery raw turnip with the fresh pak choi and duck was a perfect combination. The star of this dish though was the prune, soaked in black tea until aromatic. I could have easily eaten this in a dessert, but the sweetness when combined with the duck was beautiful.
The paired wine was a Chenin Blanc. I’d normally expect a red wine to be paired with red meat, but the dry crispness of this was a great foil to the richness of the duck.
Dexter Beef, Pickled Beer, Burnt Onion
They really saved the best until last on the savoury courses with this Dexter beef dish. The beef was butter soft, cooked blue rare (just how I like it) with amazing accompaniments.
I have no idea how the kitchen pickle beer, but they did, and it had the most amazing umami flavour, especially when coupled with the smoky char of the burnt onion. This dish had so much going on it was really exciting to eat, and fitting finish to our 5 savoury courses.
The paired drink – #notaredwine – was actually a vermouth based cocktail, which had a nose of tangy strawberries, but a negroni-esque bitterness which was utterly delicious with the dish.
For the first of our three desserts we had apple with miso ice cream and crisp sesame pastry.
The delicately sweet apple went surprisingly well with the almost savoury miso and nutty sesame. An innovative combination that I didn’t expect to love as much as I did.
The drink pairing for this course – Hopped Mead – was a huge hit with me too. Mead is traditionally a quite cloying honey wine, but this hopped version drank more like a honey infused pale beer. As a pale ale drinker, I loved this on its own, and combined with the dessert, where it added a honey sweetness and a touch of bitterness.
Treacle tart is a decadent dessert by any standards. The Wilderness version had everything you want in a treacle tart, with a gorgeous yoghurt ice cream.
The tart was as sweet and sticky as you’d imagine, but the refreshing, almost tangy yoghurt ice cream cut right through the richness, so it didn’t becoming cloying or sickly. Had I not been eating 3 desserts, I could have happily eaten more of this without ever feeling like it was too much.
The paired drink – an Argentine Torrontes – was bursting with citrus and pineapple flavours which again cut through the sweetness of the treacle tart brilliantly.
Finally, in what I consider the pièce de résistance, was Oh Bollocks!
The presentation of this dish just made me smile with nostalgia, the tangy raspberry, ice cream, sorbet and sweet waffle took me back to childhood days at the beach and copious dropped ice creams.
Paired with a Champagne cocktail of Provençal Fizz, I loved every bit of this.
Channeling Damien Hirst, we finished the meal with rich, dark chocolate gilded skulls.
It’s not often I am truly wowed by a meal, but I was by The Wilderness. Every single course had something surprising and unexpected, which made it so exciting to eat. The anticipation of each next course didn’t wane at all through the meal, and every mouthful was delicious. It is expensive, yes, but so worth it in my opinion.
This may sound gushy and sentimental, but I am genuinely proud to have such an exceptional restaurant, run by such a talented team, on my doorstep. Places like this are what has put Birmingham on the foodie map.
Long may it continue, as The Wilderness open at their new venue this year.