The team behind Terroirs, Ed Wilson and Oli Barker, have opened their latest venture in London's Covent Garden. Kerstin Kühn reports
Four years, four restaurants, all of them a roaring hit with critics and diners alike. It seems like the team behind Terroirs and its offspring, Brawn and Soif, has the magic touch when it comes to opening London restaurants.
Chef Ed Wilson and restaurant manager Oli Barker have made a name for themselves with their unfussy yet accomplished approach to food, serving largely Mediterranean-inspired flavours, along with an intelligent and diverse wine list, that focuses on lesser known varieties including natural and biodynamic wines.
For their latest venture, Green Man & French Horn, the team have taken inspiration from the Loire region of France, which stretches over 1,000km from Ardèche in the south to Saint-Nazaire in the north-west.
Some of France's most famous wines come from the area, including Saumur, Muscadet and Sancerre, and with the group's big wine focus (the restaurants are backed by wine specialist Eric Narioo's company Les Caves de Pyrène), it's no surprise that this was the main inspiration.
"The wines we most like to drink come from the Loire area so we thought it would be great to focus a restaurant on the region," explains Wilson.
Housed in a historic pub in Covent Garden, the rustic interior of the narrow 60-seat restaurant features exposed brick walls and small tables with wooden chairs perched against the wall, with a big bar at the centre.
This means there are none of the big French classics you might expect - there's no cassoulet or boeuf bourguignon and instead the influence is more subtle, focused on ingredients and recipes the team have discovered on their travels through the Loire region.
A case in point is a main course of zander and beurre blanc (£20). Zander is a freshwater fish that is fairly underused in the UK but very popular in Europe. "It is a hybrid fish between pike and perch," says Wilson. "It has the flavour of pike but isn't as bony."
He serves the fish with a beurre blanc, made from a special recipe from a winemaker's wife in Muscadet. "We had lunch there and I tasted this beurre blanc, which was just incredible," enthuses Wilson. "She made it with three core ingredients: butter from a producer nearby, local shallots and her husband's wine." Wilson has the three ingredients delivered to London and the result is a rich, creamy and delicious sauce that complements the delicate flavour of the fish beautifully.
Game is a big focus too at the Green Man & French Horn, with much of it sourced from the Sologne region, a famous hunting area home to wild birds, rabbits, deer and boar to name but a few species. Dishes include rabbit served with salsify and cider (£15); or partridge with cepes and pickled walnuts (£18).
One of the big hits among diners during the opening period in the autumn was a dish of girolles with sautéed artichoke heart and a soft, gooey egg yolk (£8.50), which perfectly showcases Wilson's rustic, earthy approach.
Meanwhile among the desserts a favourite is the pear, salted butter caramel and sablé biscuit (£7).
"The inspiration here comes from Brittany, which is famous both for its pears and salted caramel," says Wilson. He poaches the pears in a light syrup ("so they're not too sweet") and fills them with a touch of unpasteurised crème fraÁ®che to freshen them up, while the salted caramel sauce brings luscious buttery texture that is contrasted by the crispiness of the sablé biscuit.
Wilson insists that for now there are no plans to grow the group further. But with their ability to expand the Terroirs idea without compromising on the quality of the food, wine offer or service, it wouldn't be a bad thing for the London restaurant scene if they did.
Green Man & French Horn
54 St Martin's Lane, â¨London WC2N 4EA
020 7836 2645www.greenmanfrenchhorn.co