Straightforward cooking and a lack of pretension is the focus of the owners at this Hove restaurant. Andy Lynes paid a visit
Wild Flor has got off to a flying start. Opened in April this year, the 34-cover bistro has already received attention from Michelin via Twitter and received a glowing review from The Mail on Sunday's Tom Parker Bowles, who described the restaurant as offering "well priced, mainly excellent modern European cooking with the most generous of hearts".
Head chef Oliver Darby is a former musician who previously worked at Michelin-starred Restaurant Tristan in Horsham, with Robby Jenks at Amberley Castle, and the Gingerman in Brighton, before opening Wild Flor with colleagues from the Gingerman group, Robert Maynard, Faye Hudson and James Thompson.
The restaurant's dish of veal sweetbread, peas, almonds and sherry cream sauce (£13) has made a stir on Instagram, establishing itself as one of the best-known signature dishes in the city of Brighton and Hove.
"We blanch the sweetbreads in boiling water to remove the membrane and cook them to order, roasted in a pan with butter and finished with almonds and a bit of thyme," explains Darby. "It takes about 10 minutes. They're only small but you get really good caramelisation on them, so they're almost crispy."
Darby makes the sauce by sweating shallots and button mushrooms, adding chicken stock and reducing before adding a generous amount of sherry and some cream. He finishes the dish with fresh peas and a light pea purée. "It's straight to the point, there's nothing to confuse it."
Darby says the five starters, five mains and three desserts that make up the à la carte menu sell as equally well as the sweetbreads. Fish has proved particularly popular, with either sea bass, turbot or brill (depending on what's available from local supplier Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales) served with samphire, olives, tomatoes, basil and a spider crab bisque (£20).
"The spider crabs are landed locally as a by-catch of lobster and other crab fishing. They're really cheap because it's a lot of work for what you get out of them," says Darby, who makes the bisque by roasting the shells then adding brandy and mirepoix, reducing and finishing with milk and butter. He plans to serve the reserved spider crab meat as a weekend special.
Fish also features on the no-choice set lunch menu (two courses for £18 or three courses for £22), available Thursday to Saturday lunch and all-day Monday, such as a dish of roast hake with sun-dried tomato and basil risotto.
The specials board has proved to be important. A main course of herb-crusted rack of Sussex lamb, from Saddlescombe Farm just outside Brighton, for two to share with lamb sauce, Jersey royals, girolles, turnips and spring greens (£60) started life as a special.
Meanwhile every Monday at lunch and dinner, a ‘Bangers and Bordeaux' offer is chalked up, which includes a plate of sausages with garnish and a glass of Bordeaux for £16. "We make our own sausages and they change every week. We've done pork with herbs from our own restaurant garden, with pomme purée, gravy and spring greens, as well as lamb merguez-style with fresh borlotti beans and chorizo sauce. Sausages are a good way of making something really nice out of what is essentially the trim."
That trim comes from the whole or half animals or larger cuts Darby sources from Garlic Wood Farm in Shipley, West Sussex, which he says is some of the best meat he's ever used.
A sirloin of Sussex beef with Yorkshire pudding, crispy beef fat potatoes (a riff on the Quality Chop House's famous confit potatoes), spring greens, carrot, cauliflower cheese and gravy features on the Sunday ‘long lunch' menu (two courses for £28 or three for £33), which is available from 1pm until 8pm and has seen the restaurant serve 54 covers during service.
Although the owners of Wild Flor are proud of their wine list, which they say balances lesser known varieties alongside the finest examples of grapes and blends from around the world, there's no arch food and wine matching going on behind the scenes. "The idea is to have food that's not too over-complicated, so when you're pairing it you can be more flexible," explains Darby. "I write the menu and the front of house team do the wine because they know a lot more about it than me. We just want it to be a relaxed enjoyable experience, just come and have something nice to eat and have something nice to drink."
From the menu
- Roasted quail, cherry purée, candied walnuts and parsley £12
- Country terrine of pork and pistachio, pickles and toast £8
- Citrus-cured Loch Duart salmon, fennel, chilli and orange £9
- Glazed beef brisket, swiss chard, shallot and horseradish £18
- Roasted chicken breast with petits pois à la française £17
- Baby artichoke, borlotti and broad beans, and mousseron mushrooms £14
- Strawberry and elderflower pavlova £8
- Dark chocolate mousse, salted caramel and vanilla ice-cream £9
- Pistachio cake, yogurt and cherry sorbet £9
42 Church Road
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