What is it they say about restaurants and buses? Those searching for a new food haunt around W2 can call off the search, because two places have opened up within staggering distance of each other in as many months.
Ex-Masterchef finalist Marianne Lumb opened her bijou, eponymous place in September at 104 Chepstow Road and Wildflower Café followed hot on its heels and on its trail when it opened its doors just down the road at 108 in November.
Run by three foodie sisters, this restaurant cum florist cum coffee shop is small but perfectly formed with an intimate 36-cover max and a predilection for fresh, seasonal, fuss-free food. I visited with J to see what a meal sans foams and gels looks like nowadays.
The place has a country kitchen meets Hoxton chic vibe with natty bowler hat lightshades, upcycled, school chairs and a giant chalk board promising the delights of venison and red wine pie with mash and valrhona dark chocolate brownies.
During the day I bet the place is full of people buying hand-cut bouquets, sipping cappuccinos and wolfing down lemon and polenta cake but on a cold, Thursday night we were the only patrons for most of the meal, saved only from the pressure of solo dining by a middle-aged couple who wandered in towards the end.
Wildflower is still very young and clearly relies a lot on local word of mouth and the foot traffic that tramps past the brightly-lit windows only to be drawn in by the displays of sweet treats, olive oils and preserves.
The lovely, lone waitress didn’t seem too fussed by the lack of customers and was happy to chat to us during the meal, informing us that a few nights ago a couple of well-stilletoed ladies wobbled in at 11pm after a night out and left with armfuls of cakes. Swapping the chippy for the Patisserie? Only in West London.
There are only ever three options to choose from on each course of the dinner menu so we went for the prosciutto and parmesan arancini and the Jerusalem artichoke and roast garlic soup to start along with a glass of the dangerously drinkable house red Merlot.
The crisp, golden arancini squidged satisfyingly under the fork to reveal an oozing cheesy centre and came with a nicely spicy arrabiatta sauce on the side, which tasted like it was forged in the fires of hades and was scarlet with chilli. The aromatic Jerusalem artichoke soup was smooth and unctuous, although that promised hit of roast garlic turned out to be more of a disappointing whisper than a punch.
My soup was followed by a well-crisped, roast guinea fowl with a juicy thigh and a leg just this side of overdone served with girolles and some pleasingly pithy leaves of iron-rich cavolo nero on a butter saturated piece of pagnotta. If there had been any sauce when the plate left the kitchen it had been sacrificed on the altar of bread in transit and, while no one can really object to a meaty, oozing lump of hot bread, the dish was crying out for a generous glug of the pan juices to make it sing.
J’s pan-fried hake came with a healthy portion of chorizo, bean and tarragon stew and was perfectly cooked, disintegrating in the mouth with a spicy, meaty afterglow.
There was a choice of three puds, including the array of cakes still on display in the window and the freshly-baked plate of coco-rich brownies that the chef deposited near us moments before, filling the room with the heady smell of dark chocolate, vanilla pods and oranges.
I plumped for the Autumn Mess with blackberries, figs and pears swimming in podgy matrimony with dollops of whipped cream and nuggets of toffee-centered meringues from the Meringue Girls. I couldn’t escape the pudding envy though when J tucked into a spiced plum and apple crumble and started glugging from a bottle of piping hot, vanilla custard. Desserts are clearly something that Wildflower do well.
Wildflower seems to have brunches and teas down with a menu featuring huevos rancheros, blood orange bucks fizz and kedgeree but the bistro-style dinner market is a hard nut to crack. Let’s hope some of those late-night window shoppers soon turn into evening diners.
Wildflower Café, 108 Chepstow Road, London, W2 5QS, 0207 792 9594 wildflower.co.uk