The Wild Garlic is proving popular with locals and out-of-towners alike and weekend nights in particular were solidly booked months ahead. Luckily for me, I made or August booking weeks before the restaurant even opened it's doors in June.
Several large Marnie Moyle tables were pushed together to seat our large party of 15 adults and 6 children in a long 'L' shape. Most of the kids were seated at the far end by the bay window, separating them a little from customers at the other end of the restaurant and giving them a bit of space to move around. Mat underlined his genuine welcome to the kids by letting us know that he was happy for them to move around, crawl under the tables or play in the window area. I am sure this helped reassure the parents that a little boisterous behaviour would not be a problem.
We quickly settled in. The tables had already been laid with carafes of water and glasses, a nice touch. Mat's warm welcome was echoed by his front of house team.
Mat distributed and discussed the menu and his front of house team got busy taking drinks orders and serving nibbles.
As well as wasabi peas we also enjoyed a wonderful pea and cottage cheese dip served with home-made seeded savoury biscuits. Delicious and very moreish, these kept us going whilst the kitchen worked their magic.
Before too long our starters began to arrive.
A number of our group ordered the tomato and pea soup with cheesy soda bread listed on the specials board. A short while later, we were told that there had been a mix-up and the soup today was actually courgette and goat's cheese. Those who had ordered soup were given the option of switching to a different starter. I'm glad Pete didn't because this soup was a revelation. I would not have thought to combine these two ingredients and yet they really brought out the best in each other. The courgette mellowed the sharpness of the cheese and the cheese added richness, creaminess and depth.
The squid was perfectly cooked and the sweet chilli dressing over it's fresh flesh gave it a lovely zing without overwhelming.
Not only did the pork belly starter look great, it was also delicious. A creamy mushroom sauce coated the generous serving of lardons. I am glad the friend who ordered this let me taste! But only a tiny bit - he liked it as much as I did!
I wasn't sure whether the strong flavours of garlic and miso would overwhelm the sweetness of scallops but I shouldn't have worried. The dish worked well, and again, it was visually very appealing. The miso seaweed was a particularly nice accompaniment.
As the starters came out so did the pasta Mat had made for the children. They seemed captivated with the tiny star or flower shaped pasta and I've been told that more than one of them has been demanding it from their parents ever since!
Starters cleared away, the mains were served. Both Pete and I went for the water buffalo sirloin, as did several others in the group. Whilst most were served as ordered, including the blue one, both our medium rares were closer to medium well. Luckily, the meat was tender and full of flavour so the dish was still enjoyable and we chose not to send them back. I wasn't a fan of the smoked mash, which surprised me as I do liked smoked foods. But I was in the minority (and someone quickly made short work of my leftovers).
The whole John Dory was absolutely huge and cooked to perfection. The flesh was extremely moist and so delightfully fresh. Another happy diner!
The lamb went down well not only with the adults who ordered it but also with some of the kids. What stood out about the lamb for me was not just the quality and flavour of the meat but how well the mange tout, pea puree and salsa verde brought out the inherent sweetness of lamb.
During ordering, one of our party asked whether it would be possibly to serve the lemon sole special (served in the same way as the John Dory) already taken off the bone for her? Only when assured this would be OK did she go ahead and order. Unfortunately, when the dish arrived it hadn't been boned so she sent it back. What was returned to her was a bit of a disaster. Less than a third of it had actually been boned at all and that bit still retained a very high number of bones. Although the fish tasted good, the mess of flesh and bones made it unappealing and much harder work than it should have been. Her comment was that, if she had been told it would be a problem she would have ordered something different.
In another nice touch, Mat came out and gave us some New Zealand Cadbury's Fish chocolate bars for the children. I later learned that these are traditionally given out when kids have behaved themselves through the meal! Sweet!
Desserts were fabulous. The fresh berry mess was an impressive looking dish and I'm afraid it's rightful owner guarded it carefully. I didn't get to taste but can confirm from his expression that it was extremely tasty indeed with a nice mix of fruits and a good balance between meringue, cream and fruit.
The gooey chocolate brownies went down a treat, especially with some of the kids who got well stuck in. They asked for theirs to be served with ice-cream instead of cream, which the kitchen kindly did.
Pete and I decided to share Mat's signature lavender mousse and a chocolate mousse. Both were served in kilner-style jars and beautifully presented. The lavender mousse was the very essence of this distinctive flower. The chocolate mousse, for me, could have been more intensely chocolatey, perhaps a touch darker, but was also enjoyable.
The nectarine, ginger and whisky crumble went down well though the two comments were that it needed some cream or custard to provide a cold and moist counterpart to the crumble, and that the whisky flavour didn't really come through but that the nectarine and ginger was a tasty combination.
Throughout the meal we were regularly looked after by the team and I think I can speak for everyone when I say we had a lovely, relaxed evening of good food and company in a warm and welcoming environment.
The bill, including a range of soft drinks, beers and a little wine, came to approximately £35 per head for adults and about a tenner for children (kids pasta, a regular dessert and drinks). Plus service.
Here are some images of our group enjoying the evening:
And some comments they've made:
It was fabby. Lovely food. Delicious but not too rich or too heavy.
Loved the decor and the wooden tables and lack of fuss, the friendly service and the focus on the food.
I felt spoilt for choice with the menu but didn't regret any of the selections I made.
The John Dory was melt in the mouth - went well with the capers.
I didn't feel too laden down to have dessert and what a dessert - the loveliest 'mess' I'd ever tasted!
Thanks for booking us into the Mat Follas place - very good indeed, and a fine way to end the holiday.
The kids _still_ go on about 'star' pasta!
That was probably the best Mess I've had!
What he should really have done was set up his restaurant near Guildford so that I could eat there more often!
(Click here for the previously posted interview with Mat).