The new incarnation of this Masterchef winner’s B&B and restaurant is a curate’s egg – with touches of class, but a nagging lack of character
When Mat Follas won Masterchef in 2009 he opened The Wild Garlic restaurant and created a stylish studio apartment above, which I visited, and which was characterised by mid-century furnishings. I ate a beautifully presented dinner. Fine flavour combinations, tiny surprises, a relaxed but exciting experience. What Cockney comedian Mickey Flanagan would describe as a middle-class, ketchup-free restaurant “with an ambience”.
Follas has now moved east, to the village of Iwerne Minster, 25 miles from Salisbury. The second coming of The Wild Garlic is a former pub, owned by Hall & Woodhouse. With extra space, he has opened a Bar and Grill and five bedrooms. The main restaurant opens next week.
The old roadside pub is a gabled, mock-Tudor affair. Hugged by security fencing, a scruffy neighbouring plot for sale steals a little of The Wild Garlic’s thunder. Inside, Bar and Grill is light and modern. If Orla Kiely opened a cafe, this is how it might look – minus the bar, which has Badger beer on draught.
G-Plan Vintage populates my spacious, bay-windowed, if rather austere, bedroom. Instant coffee, tea, nice Wild Garlic mugs and kettle, on a Corby-branded tray (has the bottom fallen out of the trouser-press market?). Across an internal hall, a sparkling bathroom has Crittal windows reminiscent of school – we never had heated rails or Mira showers, mind.
Downstairs, munching chilli peanuts and a £2.50 bowl of good olives on a sofa, diners gradually fill tables, yet something’s awry. “Dentists’ waiting room,” says my friend, S, on arrival. “Lighting is so hard to get right.” A mood killer when it’s wrong, though – like music. Queen and Led Zeppelin are evoking a 60th-birthday bash.
Restaurant tasting menus will cost from £39. Here in the Bar and Grill the menu is traceable and cheap (affordable wine list, too). “Simple, light, flavoursome,” says S enthusiastically, of a seafood frittata packed with mussels, prawns, lemon sole, and a diddy salad.
“How much was this?”Nungwi Village
“It’s £8.25,” I reply.
“That is a big burger,” she says, eyeing up my juicy game option, a venison and pigeon patty sitting in an oat-encrusted bun, laden with pungently smoky bacon, a slather of melted cheese and fried egg – the latter surplus to requirements.Nungwi Village
The Eton mess and frangipane berry tart are light, beautiful puddings under £6. In the grease and pastry-encrusted idyll of the English countryside, it is nigh-on impossible to find such grub, and never at these prices.
Good night’s sleep (despite flimsy linen) and a good shower, and I’m glad of a luxey thick white robe when a bus pulls up at the stop opposite. Mixed however breakfast message is mixed – uninspiring buffet but flavour-packed mushrooms, tomatoes, eggs, and a tea menu (Rare Tea Co, great) – and I could do without jarring rock music first thing.
So much is right, but something’s missing, and it isn’t ketchup. Call it middle-class pretension, Micky, but I want an ambience.
• Accommodation was provided by The Wild Garlic