After screaming in delight at the telly when Mat Follas won Masterchef 2009 my friends and I had a fantastic meal at his new restaurant, The Wild Garlic, during our summer holiday in Dorset last year. Mat also kindly gave me an interview, which remains one of the most popular posts on my blog to this day.
So last year, our visit to The Wild Garlic was motivated by meeting the contestant I'd supported and eating at his new restaurant.
This year, our visit was motivated by food! Having booked onto Mat's foraging course (which I'll be blogging about soon) we also booked for dinner the night before and it was just as good as we both remembered.
Whilst we were ordering drinks and pondering the menu out came wasabi peas, bread and rape seed oil with balsamic vinegar. The peas were very moreish, I didn't love the bread, found it a little dry but nice with the oil and vinegar dip.
From lots of very affordable wines on the list, Pete chose a bottle of Le Mas Robert Vic Rouge 2008, Vins de Pays d'Oc and I went for a Fentimans Curiosity Cola.
With so many tasty choices on the menu and specials board it was hard to choose. Advice from the front of house staff and Mat, who often pops out to talk to guests (all of them, not just the ones he knows), helped us make our decisions.
Pete ordered the ceviche of brill (£7). Served with one of Mat's delicate trademark salads of leaves, herbs and flowers the ceviche was beautifully light and refreshing – soft fish in orange & lemon juice with a little chilli, shallots, herbs and zest. The resolution to eat more fish is going well!
I decided decadence was the order of the day and gleefully ordered half a lobster thermidor £20). It's served with salad and new potatoes but yes, I had it as a starter! The lobster meat was fresh, moist, flavoursome and the creamy cheese sauce complemented rather than overwhelmed. I had planned not to eat many of the potatoes, since I wanted to do justice to the rest of the meal, but they were so good that most of them seemed to just disappear. Pete helped! A fabulous appetiser and it succeeded in whetting my appetite for what was to come.
Next we were served a complimentary amuse-bouche of mackerel tartare with capers. A mouthful bursting with rich, oily, fishy freshness and sharp caper acidity, it was a welcome diversion before the main event, especially as we chose to wait a little before our next course.
My photograph doesn't do justice to Pete's venison steak, spelt and red berry sauce (£16) which looked as gorgeous as it tasted. I decided against this, as I'm not a fan of spelt but, as Pete and Mat discussed, whilst it's not an ingredient that necessarily shines on it's own, it somehow works incredibly well with the venison and berries. What was particularly lovely about this dish was the rich, gamey flavour of the venison – this doesn't come always come through, in my experience, but it did in Mat's dish.
When I first read rose rose veal with pinenuts, almonds and champ (£18) I thought the double rose was a typo! But Mat quickly explained that the dish consisted of rose veal served with a rose essence sauce. Rose rose! The dish, he said, was inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's rose and almond chicken breast. I'm happy to give Yotam and Mat shared credit – the combination of succulent meat, sweet and oily pine nuts, crunchy almonds and aromatic rose is genius and I loved it! The champ was one of the finest examples I've eaten too – smooth, potatoey potato (not a great description but potato-lovers will surely know just what I mean?) mixed with a generous helping of spring onion, I found the allium kick a great contrast to the sweet, soft meat.
Both of our mains were garnished with more of Mat's herb and flower salad – some of the leaves were an absolute revelation, so much so that I asked our waitress to find out what they were.
My favourite was identified as perilla. I've since looked it up and discovered that it's the purpurascens (purple) variety of Perilla frutescens and is also known as Purple Shiso. To me, it tastes somewhat like holy or Thai basil, which is from the same lamiaceae family of plants. Thanks to Mat's recommendation, I've been able to buy some seeds from Jekka's Herb Farm, from their stall at the Chelsea Flower Show.
Now, I know you might be wondering how we could possibly manage dessert after all that but, you know, we're properly dedicated gourmands! The lemon verbena and carragheen pudding with rhubarb (£7) appealed, except for the rhubarb (I'm not a fan) though I've never tried this type of seaweed, let alone in a dessert, so probably an opportunity missed. After some considerable dithering, we ordered two to share.
From the specials board we ordered the lime tart (£7) which came with ice-cream. This was an absolute winner for me. The pastry was soft and thin, providing a whisper of solidity for the filling. The texture of the lime custard was soft and wibbly-wobbly like a jelly with only just enough gelatine. The taste was similarly subtle – a refreshing citrus lift rather than the all-too common, in-your-face, mouth-puckering acidity that makes some lemon and lime puddings a turn-off for me. Mat mentioned a recent review in which the critic felt the lime tart needed a more robust lime flavour, a criticism Mat felt might be fair. I can see that there is room for a stronger lime kick but would hate to see the smooth, gentle savour of the tart lost.
The mixed berry 'eton' mess (£7) was lovely with nicely-sized chunks of meringue, lashings of whipped cream and lovely fresh berries, though personally I'd have liked a higher fruit and cream to meringue ratio. On the other hand, Pete thought the balance was spot on – you just can't please everyone!
detailing on the iconic Marnie Moyle tables
As you can tell, we had a wonderful meal and a wonderful evening. There are many things that make The Wild Garlic such a wonderful restaurant.
The interior is both casual and classy – it works for a for a quick cake and coffee break, it works for a relaxed dinner with friends and it works for a special celebration. The welcome is properly warm and the front of house staff are friendly, helpful and on-the-ball. Mat himself is genuinely interested in his customers and in ensuring they have a great evening. He always takes time to come out and talk to his guests. The sourcing is excellent; the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves though, of course, it needs a talented chef to transform them into such simple yet elegant dishes. The food is fantastic.
There's only one downside – that it takes three hours for me to get there!
Coming soon: a new interview with Mat, an interview with Masterchef 2010 contestant Terry Ireland (currently working in The Wild Garlic kitchen) and a review of Mat's foraging course.