Birmingham, West Midlands


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Should I Stay or Should I Go? The old Clash hit poses its punky question during an early course at The Wilderness. Stay, because this Birmingham restaurant is cool, unconventional and a spot worth knowing about – although its all-black paint job, mirrors, scrawled aphorisms and pumping soundtrack will not work for everyone. A tip before you wander, lost and late, on Warstone Road: the (black) Wilderness sign is hung high up, above the one for the neighbouring 24 Carat Bistro. In concept-land, being hard to find seems to be as important as the colour of the paintwork. Found it? Then settle in. The welcome from an exceptional front-of-house team overflows with relaxed warmth – they are knowledgeable, adaptable and welcome feedback. The chefs seem subdued though; the Wilderness theatre, on our visit at least, emanates from the floor not the kitchen. The six- or nine-course menu is called ‘All Pleasure is Fleeting’, a reference to spontaneity and ever-changing dishes. Thankfully, the pleasures of dinner don’t fleet. Beetroot ice cream is memorably sweet-savoury, its flavour nudged into technicolour by a green-chilli pesto that’s lip-smackingly bright and finely balanced; there are tiny cubes of beet underneath, while a smooth ajo blanco punches with garlic. Memorable too is a mushroom ragù, a tangle of savouriness from morels, girolles, chestnuts and cordyceps on top of chawanmushi (announced as ‘posh mushroom custard’). A cluster of puffed potato scraps adds a little texture. Other ideas could benefit from more of that texture, but how lovely to see the invention that has gone into these two vegetarian dishes. Turbot, dry-aged on the bone to accentuate its flavour, has been barbecued – 'fleetingly' – and finished with burnt butter. Smokiness whispers through the pale dish, a little smoked eel adding silvery glimmers. An aerated sauce made with more smoked eel is brightened with dashi, enriched with cultured butter and splashed with roasted bone oil. It’s an involved and thoughtful creation that’s deeply delicious. Among the wine pairings, the savoury-spicy notes of a punchy Georgian Saperavi are a particular triumph with the venison – seared and tenderly pink muntjac loin coated in cocoa and cep powder. There’s a delicious suggestion of autumnal wood fires and blackberries in the accompanying sauce, a piece of eight-hour cooked belly and a faggot made from the trimmings. Equally delicious is the glorious Banyuls served with a dessert of frozen Tahitian vanilla-infused mascarpone covered with an intensely treacly PX sherry reduction. It’s heady stuff. A poppyseed brioche seems more breakfast than dinner but brings welcome textural substance as proceedings draw to a close.