By Jessamy Baldwin
Wellbourne, a new, modern wine bar and restaurant has joined the Bristol culinary scene, in the heart of Clifton village, and it’s made quite the entrance so far. In the vicinity of the likes of Cote, The Ivy Clifton Brasserie, Rosemarino, Wallfish and The Clifton Sausage, you might think attracting a strong crowd would be a tough feat for the newbie on the block, but Wellbourne is going remarkably strong. Bolstered by its charismatic team and intimate atmosphere (one that perfectly matches its minimalist menu concept), it’s safe to say I’m welcoming this new addition to The Mall with open arms.
The 36-seater space feels contemporary yet cosy. With tan seating, emerald panelling, wooden floors and white tables, its aesthetic is coastal meets urban jungle. Chefs Michael Kennedy (recently a chef at Wallfish) and Ross Gibbens, and front of house whiz Martin Irwin all met when they worked in Michelin-starred Dabbous in Bloomsbury.
Coming from the glitter of London to Bristol’s much loved Clifton village was a ‘huge change’ according to Martin. ‘It’s been a rollercoaster, but so far so good. Everyone, from other establishments to local diners, has been incredibly welcoming and embraced us with open arms which we’re thrilled about. The menu is going down well too, which is fantastic.’
We started with round of fizz, before perusing the drinks menu further. It was refreshing to see such an intriguing drinks menu accompanied by the equally knowledgeable front of house Martin, who entertained all my questions about the 7 gins and 9 rums on the list. We arrived pretty early at 7pm so it was only D and I, plus a few other tables. On a rainy September Monday night, we weren’t expecting things to get too bustling. By 8pm however, we were pleasantly surprised by the increasing number of diverse diners. Tables of couples, families and friends laughing over dim candle light, to the smell of great cooking (with something to prove) – we were in for a treat it seemed.
The abundant wine selection was winking at us from the impressive fridge behind the zinc-finished bar. If you fancy something light with a glass of wine, there’s the vol au vents (one for £2.50, two for £4.50 or three for £6). Our favourites were the creamed girolles, new season garlic and thyme, and Cardigan Bay shrimps, smoked paprika and rapeseed mayonnaise.
Fresh bread is served with fig infused butter – a flavour that permeates across the menu. Rich, sweet and slightly sharp too, it was the perfect beginning.
For supper, starters range from £7.50 (Red Russian tomato, fresh chestnut, basil and wild horseradish) to £9 (Charred lettuce, south coast crab, peanut and tagetes). D had the crab which melted in the mouth. It was so fresh and the simple presentation added to the honesty of the ingredients. My quail with cumin leaf, white radish and golden raisins was tasty (particularly the quail itself) – but perhaps better suited to those with a penchant for bitter notes.
Mains start at £14 (violet aubergine, pistou, sesame and dandelion) rising to £20 (Veal, new season onions, mustard leaf and rapeseed dressing). My duck with wild sour cherries and sea beet was, again simply presented (part of the charm), cooked to perfection and the cherries made the whole dish pop. Even better was the veal – soft, succulent and earthy.
All puddings are £7.50. The slow cooked chocolate fondant with crushed fig leaf Arbequina olive was the star of the show for me. Pure, melted dark chocolate (rather than the typical small sponge format) is surrounded by chocolate soil – a chocolate lover’s fix.
Figs, mascarpone, sage and fresh honeycomb wasn’t too far behind the showstopper. The fresh, rich figs, creamy mascarpone and sticky honeycomb transported us straight back to our summer spent on the Amalfi coast a few years ago.
The service at Wellbourne was the best I’ve had in a while and the décor, flavour combinations and dish presentation were intriguing and fresh.
During the daytime, you can order open sandwiches, vol au vents, bars snacks including crispy pig ears and olives (both £3) and there’s a quirky brunch menu – complete with favourite brunch dish of the moment, avo on toast, along with options such as hot smoked mackerel with wild horseradish on crumpets.
Overall, Wellbourne is very much a welcomed addition to Bristol’s ever-growing restaurant scene. The atmosphere is low key, yet refined and I’ve heard on the grapevine it can get pretty buzzy as the night goes on. The menu isn’t extensive but you know every dish on there has been carefully crafted and cooked with the utmost care. The prices are high for the mains considering the smallish size, but the starters, desserts and other daytime options are very reasonable.
I will be back – specifically to have that slow cooked chocolate fondant once again.
Visit Wellbourne website here for more information and the full menu.
This article originally appeared on the Best of Bristol website.