This Shoreditch restaurant takes its ambition to source 100% of ingredients from the British Isles seriously, whether sourced from farms or foraged in fields, as Emma Lake discovers
"The chef will be showcasing locally sourced ingredients" is a phrase seen in the marketing materials for many a new restaurant.
However, at Richard McLellan's Shoreditch restaurant Wilder, it's not simply lip service to an increasing interest in provenance from consumers – it's a dedication to British sourcing, embracing all the challenges that presents.
McLellan, who was head chef of Alyn Williams at the Westbury for four years, launched the concept as a supper club, offering a five-course tasting menu and welcome cocktail based around British produce, with at least one wild ingredient in each dish or drink.
Last year Wilder moved from pop-up to a bricks and mortar restaurant in the basement of the Boundary in East London through a partnership with Sir Terence Conran, which came about via a chance meeting after his business partner flooded a flat in the building.
McLellan says: "I wanted to carry on with that ethos and keep everything as British as I could, I just wanted to champion British food.
"We're not 100% British – we're aiming to be, but I'd say right now we're 95%. There are things we still use, like chocolate and coffee."
I think it opens people's eyes to what is growing in England
The approach has presented challenges, as McLellan explains: "Citrus is a huge one for a kitchen because that's obviously where you get your acidity from. To compensate we've created our own vinegars with vegetable offcuts, flowers we pick in the summer and berries. It's been interesting because it's given the food a completely different flavour and it's also good for combatting waste issues."
The decision to strive to use 100% British produce has seen McLellan champion British game as well as looking to the likes of eldercapers, alexander, meadowsweet, medlar, mugwort, rosehips and hawthorns.
He says: "It's nice to use something new and what we've found through using different ingredients is that they give the dishes different flavour profiles.
"I think it's just understanding the ingredients we're using through building up experience and a bit of trial and error. I'll have an idea, we'll try it and then it's about finding the right balance, the right cooking methods and the right way of treating the vegetables and the protein."
The nature of the frequently changing à la carte menu, which features sustainable seafood and carefully sourced meat and game, as well as some produce from Conran's 145-acre Barton Court estate in Berkshire, means the restaurant does not have signature dishes; although the seeded cracker, served with a changing vegetable dip has featured on many an Instagram feed.
Despite this, McLellan said several dishes have seen a spike in popularity, including a herring dish, based on Scandanavian rollmops. An oil is made from the bones and heads, and the fish is marinated in two types of vinegar before being put in the oil and served with a cultured cream, pickled onion purée and white beetroot.
The ethos of the restaurant is to use as much of every animal, vegetable, fruit or herb as possible; for example, McLellan has been making a black pudding with hare blood, which will be served with beetroot cooked various ways and bitter leaves grown in Suffolk.
The aesthetics of the 60-cover restaurant, bar and private dining room mirror its approach, with greenery from the Barton Court estate hanging from the ceilings as a focal point among a natural palette of greys and different types of wood.
Speaking of the collaboration with Conran, his first new restaurant project since the closure of Prescott & Conran in 2018, McLellan says: "I can't speak more highly of him. He's been amazing – you would think someone who's created such a name would want to take full control, but that wasn't the case. He was quite happy to sit back and let it grow. He has a true belief in the concept and championing British ingredients, and I think he found the idea of what we're trying to create inspiring."
It's not just Conran who has been inspired. McLellan explains: "I try to keep the menu as straightforward as possible, to not add on too many odd ingredients that people don't understand, but the flavours have been very well received and people have found it quite interesting. I think it opens people's eyes to what is growing in England."
From the menu
- Pyefleet oyster, smoked apple vinegar, coal cream £4
- Seeded cracker, pease pudding, alexander £5
- Pollock collar, burnt cucumber £6
- Squid, fermented cabbage, chervil, buckwheat £13
- Beef tartare, mushroom, beer onion, heart £12
- Salsify, barbecued potatoes, yeast, rock samphire £10
- Hare, blood pudding, rosala radicchio, beets £25
- Jerusalem artichoke, hazelnut, chicory coffee, chocolate £8.50
- Beremeal ice-cream, goats' milks, mugwort salt £6.50
2-4 Boundary Street, London E2 7DD
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