I was recently lamenting Brighton’s loss (soon to be London’s gain) of one of the city’s leading restaurants, but true to form as one door closes another door opens. Wild Flor in Hove has been open about four weeks, and we managed to get down to try it out on Sunday evening.
The young team behind Wild Flor (Olie Darby leads the kitchen, whilst Rob Maynard, Faye Hudson and James Thomson head front of house) boasts experience from Brighton & Hove’s Ginger Group of Restaurants, with an ex-Butlers Wine Cellar employee in charge of the wine. I say “young team”, because you can see that extra touch of entrepreneurial spirit and innovation in the cooking and the wine list, but one grounded totally in sensible ideas about what will work, commercially. Olie Darby knows that his food needs to have something extra, because Wild Flor is on Church Road, Hove’s restaurant mecca. There are well know places to eat like Forth & Church and Café Malbec among dozens of others within a few hundred metres.
The food is traditional but with innovative touches, and the wine list is extensive, covering most bases. The weight is towards classics (in the widest sense), but Rob Maynard has the kind of depth of knowledge, coupled with a sense of adventure, which has helped him seek out the names that will excite wine lovers like me. Perhaps the wine we drank, from the long by-the-glass list, will show what I mean.
We started out with what might be, in my eyes at least, the best aperitif by the glass in Brighton right now, Pierre Péters Blanc de Blancs. This is unquestionably one of my very favourite Champagne producers on the Côte des Blancs, at Mesnil-sur-Oger. The fruit comes from four classic villages, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Avize and Cramant. Bottled as an Extra Brut at just 2g/l dosage, it is dry, with floral and citrus notes giving way to a little toasted hazelnut, and a nice creamy palate has more toast on the finish. It’s such a good wine. I think £14/125ml glass is not outrageous for such a good Champagne, and I’d rather pay that than see something disappointing listed for £9.
On Sundays at Wild Flor you get a set price menu with two courses for £28 or three courses for £33, but this includes a selection of hors d’oeuvres. These are currently crispbread with romesco, sea bass brandade with Arbequina olive oil, and brisket with spiced tomato and cumin. You could pretty much call this an extra course.
For my starter (entrée, if you insist, but thankfully they go with the former) I went for citrus cured Loch Duart salmon with fennel and orange, which I paired with François Cotat Sancerre Rosé 2016. This is is such a lovely example of pink Pinot Noir. François Cotat only makes a little rosé, from less than half a hectare at Chavignol. It has a good bit of colour (salmon pink), scents of light raspberry, contrasted with a broader palate of peach and raspberry, with a sprinkling of spice. I don’t know how they tracked down this wine, but putting it on the by-the-glass list was a great idea, and generous. £10/glass.
My main course was effectively a choice between hake, a mushroom risotto or roasted baby artichoke, or a traditional roast (beef or pork), which is a specific Sunday option (lunch and dinner through the rest of the week offer a wider selection of dishes) . Feeling hungry I went with the roast (beef option). This was accompanied by two reds, a Lignier Gevrey and a Brezza Barolo, again by the glass.
Gevrey-Chambertin “La Justice” 2012, Hubert Lignier is from a lieu-dit to the east of the village, on flat but well draining soils. This has a lovely colour and a scent of intense raspberry, which is just starting to turn with the introduction of a slightly gamey note. The palate is not yet completely mature, with fruit still dominant, but it isn’t tannic. Drinking beautifully now, but good for four or five years I think. £16/glass.
Barolo “Sarmassa” 2011, Giacomo Brezza Brezza has this southwest facing site at around 300 metres altitude, on sand and silt at Barolo itself. The grapes are given a long maceration and a traditional ageing in old wood. Initially you notice, after the fragrant bouquet, that the tannins are soft and smooth. This wine does indeed appeal early in most vintages, but it is quite structured. Cherry and spice dominates the palate. I think this is a really good Barolo, but even though 2011 was quite a hot vintage my own preference would be to drink this after maybe another year in bottle. Still, 99% of drinkers would enjoy this now. £15/glass.
Both reds illustrate one of the pleasing things about the wine list here. There are some bottles with a bit of age. So often you peruse a list and your eye hits on a name you fancy, especially among the classics, only to find that it’s the latest vintage and it’s not ready to drink. The Gevrey was drinking now, and the Barolo too for most people’s tastes.
I drank most of the Barolo with my cheese course. You can select one of four cheeses as part of the set menu (in place of a sweet dessert), or take all the cheeses with a £10 supplement. I was too full for that, so I went for Comté (I had to restrain myself from being super geeky and asking the age and affineur – only where there’s a Michelin Star is that perhaps acceptable outside of Jura). It came with biscuits, grapes and jelly.
Wild Flor also offers a vegan menu (the two extra hors d’oeuvres in the first food photo above were part of the vegan package), which my wife was extremely impressed with. The food was really good all round, and I’m not sure how they manage to offer such a large list of wines by the glass, which are also available as a carafe (twenty-three, plus several good beers). Although the wines we drank were towards the more expensive end of the by-the-glass list, you can drink decent Muscadet at £5 and Saladini Pilastri Rosso Piceno for the same.
The longer by-the-bottle list contains some gems. I would have been tempted by Peter Lauer’s 1988 Sekt on another occasion, and if you see that as one of the sparkling wines listed you really know that the person in charge of the wine knows their stuff. Other names on the list include Goisot, Wittmann, Craven, Montenidoli, Keller, Argyros Estate and Guiberteau (the only typo I found on the list). There’s also a cellar selection, one that actually includes two Lopez de Heredia whites (Gravonia and Tondonia), which again shows a knowledge of wine which I sincerely hope doesn’t exceed the demands of their customers down in Hove.
Oh, and even the music was good!
I think it’s fair to say that we shall look forward to going back, and hopefully before too long. Maybe there will even be some of that Sekt left that I so stupidly mentioned. We spent £140+ including service, but the food (one three course menu and one vegan three course menu) came to £61 of that, so you can easily do dinner for a lot less. Two courses of very good food and a glass of wine for £33!
Wild Flor is at 42 Church Road, Hove. They are closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Check out their menus and opening times here.