Change is good at this refurbed Gloucestershire restaurant, where the food is constantly in flux. Lee Williams pays a visit
Evolve or die. It’s the law of the jungle and, in today’s financial climate, one that increasingly applies to restaurants. And nowhere is it better exemplified than Gloucestershire’s Wild Garlic.
The adaptive nature of this restaurant with rooms in the sleepy village of Nailsworth is evident from the first impression. It is evolving around me – literally – as I enter, with white sheets and tins of emulsion cluttering a dining space that is being refurbished. This impression is backed up by chef-owner Matthew Beardshall, who makes it clear that rigid concepts such as food philosophies are shunned at the restaurant. “I think I’ve learned over the past nine years of running a place that it evolves – no chef can tell me that food has stayed the same in the last 10 years,” he says.
The introduction of a bar and a tapas menu are just two of the alterations Beardshall has made in that time. Now, with the refurb, he is transforming the original restaurant into a bistro and opening an offshoot across the road to evolve his ideas even further.
Given its fluidity, it’s unsurprising perhaps that Wild Garlic doesn’t do signature dishes. The tasting menu (six courses for £59 or £89 with wine flight) changes monthly and the à la carte seasonally. Old dishes are rarely brought back, even when the season comes round again – Beardshall is clearly a chef with little interest in dwelling on the past. “If you ask me what my favourite dish is, I’ll always say the one I’ve just come up with,” he says.
My visit in mid-June coincides with the end of the spring menu, so I have the chance to witness the swansong of the restaurant’s signature ingredient. Wild garlic is prominent in the ‘Spring in the Nailsworth Valleys’ dish, where it stars in leaf form as well as a pesto alongside a nettle beignet, fresh milk curd and wild mushrooms, to provide a taste of the pastures and woods that surround the restaurant.
Grey mullet from the South West is the fish course, served in a tempura batter with samphire, confit hen’s egg and crab mayonnaise. This is followed by Cotswold chicken breast, cooked in Indian and north African spices, with Bombay cauliflower and mango purée.
Shoulder of lamb and aubergine
Dessert is the nearest thing you’ll get to an old favourite at Wild Garlic. Back due to seasonality and customer demand, the ‘Paroffee’ is a quirky take on the classic banoffee pie, with parsnips instead of bananas nestled under a crumble and white chocolate topping, all coated in delicious sticky toffee sauce.
Local ingredients are clearly the stars of the show. Indeed, the nearest Wild Garlic comes to a permanent statement of intent is in the principles associated with its name – local, seasonal and wild, when they can get it. Yet even the word local can have a fluid definition for Beardshall. You won’t find him shunning a lemon, and while all his cheeses come from the local Woefuldane Organic Dairy (so local that Beardshall often gets held up by the Woefuldane cows on his drive to work) he is also happy to use produce from the organic shop across the road, much of which is flown in from Kenya and beyond.
“Local food to me means making connections,” Beardshall explains. “It’s about getting involved with other local businesses that are also passionate about what they’re doing, rather than just the physical locality.”
Matthew Beardshall (right)
With the local, seasonal and wild aspects, it may be no surprise that Beardshall has chef Simon Rogan in his past. Indeed, Beardshall’s CV reads like a who’s who of modern kitchen talent, and not just his employers (Rogan, Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing and Martin Blunos) but also the chefs he’s worked alongside. He prepped pasta with Angela Hartnett in the early days of Pétrus, worked pastry with Alyn Williams at Gordon Ramsay’s Teatro and shared a flat with long-term Ramsay head chef Darren Velvick.
But Beardshall has little time or inclination to dwell on the past, and his next evolutionary step is the new opening across the road. This will be small, just 20 covers, with no menu and a constantly changing set offering chalked up on blackboards. He’s inspired by agriturismo in Italy, where customers are invited into a family farmhouse and served dinner. He is looking to create an event as much as meal; something customers will remember for its warm communal nature and sense of hospitality. Typically, however, the idea is not set in stone. “This is the concept to open with,” says Beardshall. “In six months it may be something completely different.”
I get the feeling he may well be right. But whatever it has evolved into it will, at least, still be around. Evolve or die is the mantra, and Wild Garlic, clearly, is a survivor.
Grilled peach, burrata and basil
From the menu
- Woefuldane milk curd, wild mushrooms
- Samphire, confit hen’s egg
- Crab mayonnaise
- Spring chicken, Bombay cauliflower
- Mango purée, charred spring onions
- Forest oak
- Passion fruit piccalilli, malt loaf
- Lemongrass sorbet and sherbet
Tasting menu, £59
Wild garlic, labneh, smoked aubergine and Parmesan crisp
3 Cossack Square, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire GL6 0DB