We're going to start at the end — the denouement, the crux of the matter, the point. The very next place you're going to want to break bread is The Wilderness. And while we're not going to guarantee there will or won't actually be bread when you visit, something special you'll be hard pressed to avoid. The Wilderness opened yesterday. Book your table immediately, or read the feature first. Either way.
Rewinding briefly, it's been less than eight weeks since we announced the transmogrification of Nomad into The Wilderness. And it turns out eight weeks is a long time in the mind of founder, forager and borderline maniac (in the loveable genius sense), Alex Claridge. In fact, Nomad closed for only ten days before its reinvention, which includes something akin to the most well appointed forest you'll ever encounter. Think babbling brook, mossy knoll and the sort of crockery you'll wish you'd had the foresight to put on your wedding list. The whole experience is legions away from the late night trips to a forest required to finish the interior, using the only means of transport available to the team — a school bus.
As well as the dramatic increase in foliage, the level of experience in the kitchen has moved up at least a gear. With plenty of Michelin trained bods now working each service, it would have been easy to fall into the self-consciously technical territory, which isn't always as enjoyable for the customer as it is for the chef. Instead, the team is pushing itself into that even harder to achieve category of relaxed and playful food where every dish is part of a wider narrative — and every element just so happens to be perfect.
Talking of perfect, there was an egg sous-vide at 64° for two hours to create a concentration of flavour beyond any slow-cooked egg we've previously been served. A hand-dived scallop was cooked (and tartared) adeptly, initially plated in a fairly conventional fine dining manner, but then covered in a thick dusting of black edible embers created using squid ink. Part of a wider narrative which develops throughout the experience, you'll need to polish off a small battalion of wild wood ants which are set on running off with your cheese course, a vintage cheddar creme brûlée tart (see top). More than a clever quip which audibly raised intrigue levels at every table as it arrived, the intense citrus shot from each ant cuts through the strong, sweet, affirming tart.
The cocktail game is as carefully considered as the rest of operations. Full of concentrated, British, botanic-filled takes on classics — the Allotment Negroni (pictured) is as intense as it looks and includes rosehip liquor and gin which has been microwave-infused with sage, thyme and rosemary. For the unadulterated Wilderness experience, you can opt for The Full Story (around £65 for 10(ish) courses), including drinks matched to each dish it'll be more like £100. Or come in for what's being described as "a snack" (£3 to £6). A seasonal and wallet-pleasing chance to see what the kitchen is in to that day, we'll see you there for anything from salmon and strawberries, to lamb sweetbreads with nasturtium leaves.
And though you may think the day after opening is a little premature to be talking about the future, Claridge and his team have made refinements and additions to the menu even since we tried it out. "Oh b*llocks" (pictured) is a very British childhood catastrophe on a plate. Yes, that's a 99 Flake, and yes, we've been there too.
Open Wednesday through Saturday. Tables are available for lunch (which costs from £30), from 12.30pm til 2pm, and for dinner, from 7pm til 8.30pm. Snacks are for the getting 12.30pm til 3.30pm and 5pm til 10.30pm. Book
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