Review: Wellbourne in Clifton, Bristol
PUBLISHED: 16:20 19 November 2018
Catherine Courtenay visits a rather special restaurant in the heart of Clifton
It should be a highlight of dining out; that first glance at the menu must create excitement and anticipation of the evening ahead.
Iberico pork presa, crushed sand potatoes, lesser calamint, birch sap...Wellbourne’s a la carte menu does the job very well, it’s peppered with the promise of intriguing culinary experiences.
It should be special though, having been set up by chef duo Ross Gibbens and Michael Kennedy, who were both at Dabbous in London and have a string of high-end restaurant experiences between them. Opening in August 2017, Wellbourne is the first of three restaurants; Wellbourne Salardu in the Spanish Pyrenees followed in November and in April they opened Wellbourne Brasserie in White City.
Wellbourne taps into Clifton’s neighbourhood feel through its street corner location, simple interior – and by offering brunch. Tables wrap around the bar, with banquette seating to the rear. It feels unfussy, a place to pop in and enjoy a glass of wine and linger a while with some bar snacks: cheeses, charcuterie, simple sourdough or perhaps a plate of vol-au-vents. Sampling a vol-au-vent is a must, whether savoury or sweet, they are a house special and these spoonfuls of perhaps mushroom, chicken or salt cod in the lightest of pastry cups, disappear all too easily.
Thankfully, if you’re sat by a window you’ll find the menus hanging on clipboards alongside, so you can refer to them throughout the dining experience and check up on all those flavours.
Starters include a cooling mix of Dorset crab with a wave of jerusalem artichoke, surrounded by a light almond cream. It is beautifully refreshing. The salt cod confit with girolles and those sand potatoes is perfectly finished with sea herbs, namely samphire and sea purslane. A tiny sprinkling of well chosen leaf or herb can do great things. The lesser calamint on a dish of violet aubergine with miso makes such an impact and how wonderful to see the humble runner bean, slightly charred and with intense flavour, elevated to lofty foodie heights. Another main, the Iberico pork presa, black garlic, woodland mushrooms and cavolo nero has the punch of an earthy autumn feast.
There’s dithering over dessert so Richie on front of house recommends the chocolate fondant. “It’s not like any other fondant you’ve had,” he says. When it arrives on a bed of chocolate crumble he slowly pours fig leaf olive oil over it. It seems a ridiculous amount, but it works so well. All the sensuousness of chocolate but with none of cloying heaviness; rich and strangely refreshing, it’s another mini miracle from the Wellbourne chefs.