Returning to The Wilderness, Birmingham

For those of you who’ve read Sophie etc since the beginning, you may know that for three years, I lived in Birmingham. I went to university there and it’s actually where you can trace right back to my food blogging roots. The first restaurant review I wrote on my blog was in 2014 and it was for The Lost & Found on Bennett’s Hill – #throwback! Birmingham has a bustling food scene which I immediately found infections; I wanted to try anything and everything from street food to fine dining and my blog gave me so many opportunities to meet new people in that world. Of course, my passion for great food continues and has grown even bigger since I graduated three years ago. I have such wonderful memories of the food scene in Brum and have loved watching it grow from afar. One of the restaurants that continued to stay with me was The Wilderness. Now, I visited The Wilderness when it first opened on Dudley Street in central Birmingham (you can read my original review here!) It was one of my first fine dining experiences and it’s stuck with me for some time. I loved the innovation and challenging nature of the dishes, in particular, the ants!

Dan and I have started to get into a tradition whereby for birthdays, we go to a fancy-ass restaurant instead of physical gifts. Unsurprisingly, we’ve both got a huge list of restaurants we want to go to – from street food vendors to Michelin starred establishments. For Dan’s birthday, I decided to take him back to my former home turf of Brum and what better place to head back to than The Wilderness? Owned by chef Alex Claridge, The Wilderness describes itself as “rock and roll fine dining.” I was so excited to return and see how the food and venue had evolved.

The Wilderness now resides on Warstone Lane, tucked away in the Jewellery Quarter. Immediately, the interior is brilliant. Everything is black, gold, a little gaudy yet still classy. The kitchen spans the whole room so you can see the chefs at work. Angled mirrors span the whole right-hand side creating a pretty voyeuristic experience. There are lots of skylights in the roof which literally created the best lighting for all the food photos. 10/10 for that. We arrive, our coats are taken and we’re seating at our table. We went for the 8 course tasting menu (£70 per person). A shorter menu is also available for £40 per head. Que also MARVELLING at the epic playlist. It’s basically Kerrang! on repeat and we were very much here for it.

With a little guidance from the waitress, we chose a bottle of Zweigelt to drink. This was a German red wine that was beautifully delicate; it had notes of strawberries which made it a pretty good all-rounder for the duration of the meal.

The tasting menu included two snacks which got the ball rolling. First up was a Hebridean salmon tart which was the lightest, freshest thing. The pastry was impossibly thin and crisp, and the salmon was tender and rich. It was topped with thinly sliced apple which gave it a burst of freshness on the palette. Next up was the Yuk Sung Bun – bite sized deep fried brioche filled with meat (I think – I can’t remember exactly!) and topped with hoisin. As with most bite sized dishes, I could have eaten another one. Both snacks were impeccably presented and we were very excited for the prospect of what was to come…

The first course? A Big Mac. But make it refined. Now, neither Dan nor I are particularly great fans of a Big Mac, but we both appreciated that for many, it’s a classic. This dish comprised of Wagyu beef tartare, gherkin ketchup, shallots, savoury custard and a cheese crisp. The beef was so beautifully tender, I forgot it wasn’t cooked. Weirdly enough, I literally felt like I was eating a McDonalds. I even had the slightly gross oniony, gherkin taste in my mouth after I’d finished the dish. You know, that signature, I’ve just eaten something I shouldn’t post-Maccys? Dan wasn’t sure if he wanted to feel like he’d eaten a Big Mac, but I thought this was pretty darn clever.

Next up was Devon smoked eel atop charred heritage potato with a wild garlic and whey sauce. The potatoes had been charred over flames so it created a charcoal crumb which broke down when the whey sauce was poured on top of it. The smoked eel itself was packed with flavour and was just beautiful with the wild garlic. The charcoal was a little overpowering so when you took a bite of the eel with the potato, the smokiness of the eel got a little bit lost.

The next few courses were some of my favourite dishes that I’ve eaten this year. Thai green Goosnargh chicken, which was just beautiful. The chicken was melt-in-the-mouth tender and the accompanying veg was soft and light. The Thai green sauce was wonderful because it was smooth, creamy and had a spicy kick that was just enough to make your tastebuds dance. Too often in fine dining, there isn’t enough spice so this was a welcome touch. I literally couldn’t fault this dish and it looked pretty as a picture.

The next dish was my favourite of all the courses: Scallops with smoked butter and leeks. What the menu didn’t dictate was that the scallops were marinaded in a satay sauce. I love scallops. And I love satay. This dish was so good I nearly cried. The scallops were tender and buttery and hell, the sauce was SO GOOD. It was just perfect. The satay sauce also had a little kick to it which caught the back of your throat. The sweet nuttiness of the satays just made me do so many happy dances.

The next dish was listed as ‘N.A.F.B’ on the menu which gave very little away. Knowing what The Wilderness are like, I suspected there was a swear word in there somewhere – and I was correct! Inspired by his frustrations about the sheer number of curry houses in Birmingham (believe me, there’s loads) Alex labelled this, “Not Another Fucking Balti.” Which is wonderfully ironic. This was definitely one of the best dishes on the menu and it was Dan’s favourite. Quail was served in a butter sauce topped with puff rice and lime foam. There was also a tamrind dahl which had an incredibly powerful flavour. The final part of the dish was a samosa, filled with confit quail. The pastry was so light and delicate and the filling tender and delicious. This dish flew in the face of everything you expect a curry to be: dense and filling. It proves that Indian food can be refined, delicate yet still packed with flavour. Very, very clever indeed.

The final main course was Lake District lamb with wye valley asparagus, charcoal sauce and miso. Again, I found the charcoal a bit overpowering. The miso, lamb and asparagus all worked together beautifully and the charcoal definitely gave it a bit of welcome smokiness but it felt like it dominated the palette too much. The lamb was absolutely stunning though, and impeccably cooked.

Time for desserts! Now, this was a twist on a proper classic. Milk and Cookies. Milk ice cream on top of a cep mushroom cookie dough and topped with salted caramel sauce. Absolutely amazing. So I went to New York last year and we went to Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar, which is famous for its cereal milk soft serve. It’s sweet, salty and a bit savoury. I never thought I’d come across anything similar in the UK but this milk ice cream was as near as dammit. It wasn’t very sweet, definitely more salty and savoury but paired with the cookie dough it was just beautiful.

The final dessert was another stunner. A scoop of Anise ice cream which – I’m sorry – literally tasted like Sambuca. BAD. MEMORIES. However, it was magical. Because paired with rhubarb, gingerbread cake and fermented custard, this dish took on a whole different flavour. Despite comprising of strong flavours, everything seem to neutralise one another and it created just a wonderfully balanced desert that had all the right levels of tartness from the rhubarb, warmth from the gingerbread and sweetness from the ice cream. Weird. But again, very clever.

Our meal at The Wilderness was completed with a white chocolate skull filled with passionfruit and lemon. God, I could have eaten a box of these they were DELICIOUS.

I’m sure you’ve probably got the jist of how much we loved our meal at The Wilderness. It was such a great experience and it was great to go back. It’s smart, a bit cocky yet refined at the same time. When I visited a few years ago, it was just starting to find their feet but now, it is a truly established brand with a real ballsiness about it and is up there as one of the best restaurants in Birmingham for sure. There is visible confidence of just how good the food is which is apparent through all aspects of the restaurant and service. We also paid Nocturnal Animals a visit, which is an 80s style cocktail bar by Alex Claridge. The cocktails are over the top and a little bit ridiculous, but it’s a good stop once you’ve been to the restaurant. Oh, but the toilets are MARVELLOUS.

If you like fine dining with an edge, challenging your palate and enjoy listening to Led Zepplin and The Darkness as you dine, The Wilderness is definitely worth a visit.

Lunch tasting menus are priced at £40 and £70 for the short and long menus respectively. Dinner menus are priced at £75 and £100 for short and long respectively. The Wilderness switch up the menu every few weeks so check their social media for what dishes are on.

To view sample menus and book a table, visit wearethewilderness.co.uk

I paid for this meal with my own money.

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I'm Sophie, a 20-something Milton Keynes food & travel blogger helping you to discover great eats and adventures in MK, Bucks and beyond.

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