Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Wild Garlic, Beaminster, Dorset

The Wild Garlic

Yes, I know I've just come back from cooking Burmese food at The Wild Garlic and you may want to know a little more about that.

However, I thought I'd take a step back and throw you a curve ball by writing about what Mat Follas and his fine brigade normally dish up.

Last February, my husband, his brother, his brother's girlfriend and I had resolved that as soon as the gladiator that had slain his opponents in culinary warfare had established a going concern, we would venture west and pay a pilgrimage to this champion.

The Wild Garlic - Sign


Well, life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans, so it's not till more than a year later that we four are embarking on an adventure to the distant land of Dorset to make good this resolution.

None of us want to drive, so we get a train to the nearest station, and thus find ourselves in the village of Crewkerne wondering what the hell to do. There's some kind of funfair being set up, and the temptation to go on the Mega-Dance and 'llow Beaminster altogether is strong, but eventually we find a cab who takes us the rest of the way.

Crewkerne

The Wild Garlic's address is 4, the Square. Beaminster appears to comprise just this Square, so it's easy enough to find.

As we stand at the door, suddenly I feel a bit weird - I'm conscious of the fact that less than a month from now, Mat is allowing me to take over his restaurant, and seeing it in real life has made it become very real.

DSC00850

Any weirdness is immediately replaced by awe - being pedestrians, we've lazily booked the apartment directly above the restaurant, and Katy, one of Mat's brigade, leads us up to a retro vision of wood, pale greens and lilacs (a theme carried over from the restaurant).

The flat is bigger than we expected, comprising a combined bedroom and lounge area, a fully equipped kitchen diner (plus bread, butter, wine and cereals) and an ensuite bathroom.

Moreover, I'm a sucker for a well-designed piece of furniture, and this flat is a showcase for some of the best including G-Plan and Ercol - a beautiful set of table and three-legged chairs which sleekly slot together to leave a clean silhouette, some Mad Men-style purple recliners, a starburst wall clock, and a glam mirrored pendant lamp.

I make the other three strike a pose for posterity. It has to be done.

Like some kind of album cover

There's time to kill before dinner, so we loaf around the stylish apartment for a while, and then decide that we really ought to get some fresh sea air. Sadly, there is only one bus from Beaminster to West Bay (the nearest beach) and we miss it - the brother-in-law and his other half make it to the sea on foot, but my husband and I do not, as Mat has asked Terry Ireland (his sous chef and a semi-finalist in this year's MasterChef) to let me have a go at prep before service that evening.

It's my first time in a professional kitchen and I mainly get in the way, so we're all relieved when it gets to 7, and I can cross to the other side of the swing door for our reservation.

Bread, nuts and oil

The four of us sit down at a gorgeous wooden table which looks like a large piece of driftwood, but in fact used to be a French carpenter's table.

It's strikingly different from the other tables, which are
by Marnie Moyle and just as beautiful, but engraved at the edges with the names of birds, plants, and randomly, types of potato.

Marnie Moyle table

A jug of iced water arrives immediately from a smiling Steph. Jen and Emma are also front of house tonight - Jen takes drinks orders - some wine for the others and Mat's Fizz for me. We're also given good bread, oil and balsamic to dip in, and some spiced, caramelised nuts to nibble.

Because I'm with family and I'm a control freak, I make all the food choices - we absolutely have to cover as much of the menu as possible.

Starters are Dorset Crab Thermidor; Smoked Scallops, Smoked Meats Carpaccio; Sweet Chilli Squid; and Confit Duck Leg, Orange Sauce.

Dorset Crab ThermidorConfit Duck Leg

Often Thermidor is so smothered in cheese that the seafood is suffocated, but here the creamy sauce simply serves to enhance the sweetness of the delicate crab, as it rightly should.

Continuing this theme of allowing the main ingredient to shine, the Wild Garlic squid comes free of the usual batter shackles and, astonishingly, the texture is perfect - tender, delicious, with no sign of rubber at all.

Sweet Chilli Squid

And the chilli jam that comes with it is fresh and uncloying (in fact, not half an hour beforehand, Terry was trying to teach me how to make both this and the thermidor sauce, to which my reaction was, "You're not really expecting me to remember all this, are you?").

The duck leg is a little too salty for my liking, but the skin is fabulously crispy, and the portion so generous that we dive in without guilt when my brother-in-law offers a tasting.

The smoked meats are textbook, but as for the scallops - oh, the scallops. Mr Follas has been known to dive for his own anyway, which already makes them that little bit more special ("hand-dived by the chef" and all that).

Smoked Scallops

But these scallops have been smoked until they turn into nuggets of yum. Yes, that's possibly the worst phrase that I have ever written in my life (although give me time), but seriously, people - nuggets of yum.

My husband has never, ever seen the point of scallops, but these ones, which have been smoked briefly over woodshavings in a little camp-style smoking pan, actually make him change his mind.

A storming start, so we're really looking forward to the next round. We, by which I mean I, have chosen Local Pork Chop, Hogweed, Purple Sweet Potato, Crayfish; Slow-Cooked Skirt, Truffle Cream; Whole Gurnard, Tomato and Tamarind; and Fillet of Beef, Smoked Mash and Bearnaise Sauce.

Frips

As we wait for our mains, two platters are brought with five beautiful types of leaf on each for us to try as amuse-bouches. Sadly I can't remember them all, but there's ice leaf, oyster leaf and Tiny Totoro Umbrella (aka nasturtium). All mad, all exciting, the peppery nasturtium's my favourite and not just because of the Ghibli/Animal Crossing connotations.

When my dish arrives, I want to sing "Under the Sea", so lively does my wee crayfish appear (and it tastes just as perky). The pork chop is a little tough, but the fat is nicely crisped, and the ground hogweed ramps up the savouriness. The purple sweet potato is soothing and moreish, with warm hints of miso.

Pork Chop, Hogweed, Crayfish, Purple Sweet Potato

The hubby's beef and smoked mash is gorgeously autumnal, the mash a sexier version of the one I'd tasted in Birmingham.

Brother-in-law's beef is an even better chunk of cow than the husband's, with its frothy topping of truffley cream. And like the miso in my purple mash, there's another Japanese touch in the little tamagoyaki roll which comes with his dish - but it goes surprisingly well.


And his girlfriend's gurnard is the biggest beast we've ever seen - she immediately names the fish Bernard, and then apologises to it repeatedly as she eats its delicious body covered in tangy sauce.

At this point though, we're close to admitting defeat. The portions are huge.

Possibly too huge. But despite the size, the presentation is somehow dainty - they're the prettiest plates I've seen in a while.

Bernard the Gurnard

But I'll be damned if I don't get to try dessert, so we plough on and order Mixed Berry Eton Mess; Local Damson and Apple Crumble; and Trio of Chocolate Desserts (Chocolate Cardamom Brownie, Dark Chocolate and Rosemary Mousse, Chocolate and Orange Sorbet).

We also order some of Mat's home-made sloe gin - might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, and it turns out to be delightful.

The Eton Mess is heavenly. There is no other word one could use. The damson and apple mix is too sharp; however, the granola in the oaty crumble works brilliantly.

Eton Mess

The trio of desserts is also a success - my favourite being the citrussy sorbet, though the mousse is a close second.

And to be fair, the only reason I'm not so keen on the brownie is that I'm not fond of cardamom used in sweet stuff.

Trio of Chocolate Desserts

By now, we're weakly scraping at the plates with our spoons, lapsing into a food coma, when Mat appears to say hello and gives us all a shot of Somerset Pomona on the house.

This act of kindness combined with the wonderful food we've indulged in means the rest of the night disappears into a bit of a haze ...

It's a bloody good thing we booked the flat upstairs.

Nightcap

The Wild Garlic
4 The Square
Beaminster
Dorset DT8 3AS
01308 861 446
www.thewildgarlic.co.uk

The Lewin Apartment can be booked directly through the Wild Garlic website and costs £120-£150 a night

24 comments:

  1. Everything looks so delicious. I stared at the scallop for ages before I even realised what I was doing. Hungry now.

    Great write up! I eagerly await your pop-up post. It will be better for the anticipation. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. One of my best friends went here for a romantic trip and I was very jealous and even more so having now seen the pictures.

    We went to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's River Cottage which was a great experience but distinctly average food experience instead. Sad.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "My husband has never, ever seen the point of scallops.."

    It's just as well you do take charge of the ordering! This all looks fab and 'nuggets of yum' is such a great description of those wonderful smoked scallops.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ha haaa I too have named gurnard Bernard before eating it! :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. I am sooo, sooo hungry after reading that and it's far too early in the morning to open my lunch up and scoff it, so I shall go outside and freeze until the enormous pangs of hunger subside. Why don't restaurateurs and chefs pay you to review their places? brilliant pics and great writing. You are evil, but thank you - I now go outside to freeze ...

    ReplyDelete
  6. @Suzler - Hypnotising nuggets of yum.

    Yeah, I'm just stringing you along :)

    @TomeEats - I am rather fond of Mister Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The Wild Garlic is very romantic - especially if you book the flat upstairs too.

    @Mr Noodles - My husband is not too proud to admit a mistake - he used to think he hated cheesecake for some reason too :)

    @Kavey - Has to be done, innit.

    @chumbles - Sorry lovely Chumbles :D

    ReplyDelete
  7. Lovely review, MiMi. Beaminster is most definitely on my 'must visit' list for next year. And I'm bagsying that room!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Lovely review, and great photos! Am sitting at my desk, desperate to escape there now!

    My boyfriend and I went to The Wild Garlic shortly after it opened (the same night as Kavey in fact, although I was in a world of my own and didn't see her!), and had the most wonderful meal there, and a lovely trip all round.

    Been wanting to go back ever since - and after reading your review, am even more determined to make sure we go back next year!

    ReplyDelete
  9. WOW! It all looks abslutely amazing. I feel I need to cross the county again in order to experience Matt's food. It looks so beautifully presented. I love the room there, will definitely be making my way over shortly.
    Great post MiMi.

    ReplyDelete
  10. @aforkfulofspaghetti - Thank you! It's definitely worth making the trek.

    @Sharon - See, now I'm ashamed it took me so long to visit :)

    @Nick Baines - It is faintly hilarious that I made you come to the Wild Garlic to eat Burmese food! Do come and try the usual fare - it's stunning.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Agh - I'm now empathising with Bernard the Gurnard, I almost feel as put out as he looks in your photo at the thought of him being eaten. That said, he looks super fresh and very tasty. Empathy only goes so far.

    The whole selection of food looks very good, a sort of combo of fine dining quality and West Country portions. What a good mix.

    Stand outs for me (from your description) have to be the nuggets of yum, the miraculous squid and the hunk of beef. Am drooling.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Now I am humming "Under the Sea" at my desk.... It won't stop. Heeeeelp. (Oh, and The Wild Garlic sounds FAB.)

    ReplyDelete
  13. That's an intriguing selection for an amuse-bouche, really like the idea but yep yep, everything looks pretty delish from here.

    Even Bernard (even if he does look a little bit angry)

    ReplyDelete
  14. @The Grubworm - I said to Mat that the servings were too generous and he said to me "That's Dorset portions". I am obviously a townie.

    @The Greedy Diva - Darling, it's better here where it's wetter, take it from me!

    @Food Urchin - It's the same principle as with the squid and the crab - respecting the ingredients, and having enough faith in their quality that you're willing to let them stand by themselves and to shine unadorned.

    I really wish I could remember what all the leaves were - I'll have to ask Mat.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hey, I work at the Wild Garlic and I just thought I'd drop a quick note to tell you what the leaves on your amuse-bouche were: The furthest from the camera is sugar leaf by the looks of it, then its ice plant, then tree spinach, then oyster leaf then nasturtium. The Burmese night was great fun too by the way x

    ReplyDelete
  16. Bernard looks lush! Now where is your night, come on MiMi pull your finger out!

    ReplyDelete
  17. We went to the Wild Garlic in the Week O'Fun after our wedding and we absolutely loved it.
    We did lots of fun things, but it was a proper highlight.
    I'm definitely planning to go back next year some time, hopefully on a lovely foraging course or similar :-)

    ReplyDelete
  18. @Sophie - Yay! Brilliant - thanks for ID'ing the leaves for me, Sophie! Also thanks for looking after me on Burmese night :) x

    @Pavel - Watch this space :p

    @Miss Whiplash - Ooh yes - I went on a foraging day (will write about that soon), and Mat's expanded the types of courses too - I think you can go diving now!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Nuggets of YUM, when's the next bus from Edinburg, I'm on it

    ReplyDelete
  20. I must never read these reviews before lunch, am so hungry now. So a trek down to Dorset is on the card. Looks really yum.

    ReplyDelete
  21. @Hilary - Hell of a journey,but worth it :)

    @May - Ha, sorry! Yes, go!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Loved the bit about 'the village of Crewkerne' - it's actually quite a respectable-sized town for the Westcountry, you know! And I imagine you were there on Carnival weekend - the towns of Somerset have a carnival each every year during October, with massive floats decorated with thousands of light bulbs winding their way through the slightly-too-narrow-really streets.

    The food at the Wild Garlic looks incredible - I'll have to try to get my Somerset-dwelling family over there next time I'm home!

    ReplyDelete
  23. @Allie - That's a village from where I'm standing :)

    Yes, do visit the Wild Garlic - Somerset is but a hop, skip and a jump away.

    ReplyDelete
  24. You had micro leaves and herbs with your food! I'm rather envious.

    I've blogged about the grower. http://beyondthepasty.wordpress.com/2010/10/14/sampling-micro-herbs-and-leaves-from-keveral/

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for taking the time to comment!