WIlding Oxford opened to the public fully on 26th May.
After a year of lockdowns, home cooking, and occasional (let’s be real, regular) takeaways, I’m back INSIDE an actual restaurant! My first indoor dining experience after restrictions lifting was a press launch for Wilding Oxford. I know, awful job.
If you’ve read our preview, you’ll know Wilding is a wine restaurant, shop and bar, in what was Cafe Rouge on Little Clarendon Street.
The red of Rouge is long gone, with a beautiful steel grey new overcoat adorning the red brick building. Layers have been stripped away inside, revealing vintage tiling, some of which has been kept in place. Floors have been laid, woodwork repainted, and glistening new lighting placed. All in all, a pretty place to be, with a modern-retro bistro feel and 400 wines adorning the shop shelves.
Seating is varied and plentiful – two seater tables at the front, banquettes and bar seating in between, and mixed size tables at the rear. A private dining room awaits upstairs, yet unfished but seating up to 16.
The rear dining area leads into an in-the-midst-of-a-makeover terrace, via wall to wall windows; an utter joy, I imagine, during summer months. Warm lighting and twinkly wine glasses set the mood,
The menu read well for our visit; well-sourced fish, meat and vegetables taking equal billing on the menu, and a bountiful selection of dishes I’d actually like to order. In addition to this, is a wonderfully varied wine menu, with 50 wines available by the glass.
We were easily tempted in by an aperitif – a Wilding Spritz – of English Crement (a sparkling wine similar to Champagne or Cava), Somerset blackberry and citrus (£10), before leading our way into some nibbles. Padron peppers (£3.50) and Devon Oke cheese shortbreads (£3.50) nibbled well; the glistening, blistered skin of the peppers countering the buttery, savoury bite of the shortbreads.
Pretty happy at this point tbh…
For starters, we chose a selection of three small plates for the two of us to share: grilled asparagus with alexander and hogweed salad (£6 – both edible flowering plants); seared scallops with sea vegetables, pickled wild garlic flower and lemon butter sauce (£9); and grilled quail with rose harissa and & pistachio (£8).
I cannot tell you enough how good the asparagus and scallop dishes were.
Everything was bursting with flavour, expertly seasoned, an absolute treat to devour. The quail was also a great dish, but the asparagus and scallops sang with freshness, seasonality, and brilliant sourcing. I would quite happily have those as starter and main, twice over.
With this variety of starters and a pizza ordered for main, pairing a wine may have been a challenge. Clearly not for their Head of Wine, Sarah Helliwell, who recommended a dreamy and light red that neither jarred or agitated the flavours of the food.
My only minor regret really here was ordering the pizza. My stomach told me to order from the sharing boards and grills, but my head said to order a wood-fired pizza – recommended as representative of the restaurant. We’re very lucky to have brilliant pizza in Oxford, and accessible too. And while my pizza at Wilding (£14) was very good – with my go-to toppings of air-dried ham, anchovy and rocket – it’s yet to topple my favourite pizza slingers off their perch. Let’s give them time though, especially while their pizza oven is still box-fresh!
My companion’s charred leek and Jersey royal filo tart (£12) was also delicious, just not as immensely excellent as the starters.
By this point we were filling up fast, but there’s always room for pud, amirite?!
And who can say no to a big bowlful of strawberries with basil granita? Clearly, neither of us, because we ordered one each. It was so tasty, in fact, that I forgot to note the price, but desserts range from £3-6. I paired mine with an espresso shot, supplied by locally roasted coffee from Jericho Coffee Traders.
The smile on Julia’s face says it all – and while we’d probably choose different mains next time, it’s definitely a venue I would revisit, and happily recommend to others. The restaurant is now open fully to the public, so let me know what you think if you visit – I’d love to hear about some of the other dishes!
We dined as guests of Wilding Oxford, all views remain our own.