Wild Flor, Hove
Relax with stunning and seasonal fine dining and a great selection of quality wine at this gorgeous, friendly neighbourhood bistro.
There’s something rather decadent about going for a ‘last meal’ out before a month-long lockdown. There’s a sentence I never imagined I’d write. Rolling up at gorgeous Hove bistro Wild Flor for Sunday lunch the day after the PM’s latest lockdown announcement, I found the team in good spirits. They’ve been here before, they’ll get through it again, and in the mean time, there are hungry customers to serve.
Wild Flor only opened its doors last year. A wine-led neighbourhood restaurant, its focus is on classic cooking and great drink. Owners Robert, Faye and Jamie have been pals for years, working across the local and national hospitality sector, and Chris Trundle, formerly of Manfred’s in Copenhagen, heads up the kitchen. Last lockdown the popular Wild Flor To Your Door takeaway/finish at home service won many loyal fans, and this time round you can order a hand-paired tipple from the cellar to go with your delivery. So far so good – who’s up for a spot of lunch, then?
Set in the heart of Hove on bustling Church Street, the frontage is fairly unassuming but step inside and it’s all rustic exposed walls, tasteful dark green detailing and low, intimate lighting. Upstairs, there’s a light and airy dining room for bigger groups and families. It’s all pleasantly stripped-back, comfortable but unassuming, the food and drink is the star of the show here.
It’s a really versatile space, the Sunday lunch crowd is by nature very different to the romantic intimate evening crew, but the place feels like it can adapt seamlessly to both. You gain a new respect for the art of good hospitality when you find yourself having a cosy, intimate lunch with your boyfriend (the lovely ‘Dave’) just metres from a larger, rowdier table of diners complete with sausage dog, and somehow neither group feels out of place or like its impinging on the other.
The menu is small and provided both on paper with a list of allergens in each dish – an exceptionally thoughtful detail that will be appreciated by anybody who has had to grill waiting staff for relevant information – and also chalked on the large board in the middle of the restaurant. The wine list, by contrast, is two full A4 pages long. This is definitely one for the wine aficionados.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
As befits a bistro-style restaurant, there’s a distinctly French feel to the menu. This bodes well. As does the latte I decided to kick off with, which is small, smooth and impossibly creamy with no hint of that Costa-esque aftertaste. ‘Dave’ had the task of sampling the wine list, which is organised into not just colour but category – whites can be ‘thirst-quenching and sunshine ready, primed for leisure’ or ‘chewier, textured wines showing potent depth and ripeness’. Reds are ‘easy riders’, ‘potent bottles for those seeking more power’ and ‘concentrated, well-structured yet light-footed’. Prices start from £5 a glass and max out at £148 for a bottle. The word on the street is that the aged wines here are particularly good value. The word from ‘Dave’ is the reds he sampled were exceptionally good, and made me look significantly more attractive. I might have made that last bit up. We all know it’s a physical impossibility for me to be any more attractive.
To start, I had girolles with Cafe de Paris butter and egg yolk, a sensational seasonal arrangement that was flavoursome and decadent, with the vinegary richness of really well-made Hollandaise. The mushrooms were interspersed with croutons to soak up all the buttery goodness. ‘Dave’ had boudin noir (black pudding, for those who, like us, had to ask) with beetroot and green peppercorns. The portions are modest, as befits the richness of the food – no local pub-style mountains here. Even so, I think we’d have both eaten the serving plates too if we could.
I chose guinea fowl with fennel for a main, and ‘Dave’ had roast sirloin of beef with Yorkshire pudding. I tend to avoid roasts when I eat out, even on a Sunday, because I’ve yet to taste a roast that can measure up to my mother’s, whose gourmet home cooking remains my benchmark. Guinea fowl however is definitely in the category of ‘wouldn’t have that at home’. The mains came with pommes paillasson – a crispy, buttery potato cake – braised red cabbage, pumpkin with sage butter, and bitter leaf salad. It was all absolutely wonderful, a riot of flavour and texture from the succulence of the meats to the gorgeous seasonal flavours of the veg dishes. The pumpkin in sage butter was sweet and earthy, the cabbage braised with warming spices and fruit, and the bitter leaves worked exceptionally well to balance out the richness of the meals. Don’t tell my mother, but I’d say the roast beef and feather-light Yorkshire pudding I pinched off ‘Dave’ was up there with hers.
Room for pudding? Always! The dessert menu was quite intriguing, featuring smaller offerings like a dark chocolate and madeira truffle, or honey and brown butter madeleines. I went for the apple and lemon thyme tart with creme fraiche which was just a few bites of pure flavour, freshness and sweetness, and ‘Dave’ had creme caramel with pear, which was equally flavoursome, creamy and light.
AROUND AND ABOUT
Given the choice, I’d never actually leave Wild Flor. But as all good things must come to an end, you can carry on the day with a trip to the beach, a short walk away, or wander around Hove’s quirky and characterful streets checking out inferior quality eateries, artisan stores and indy shops. Brighton’s just along the road too and easy to get to by car, bike or public transport. Then wander back to Wild Flor once you’re hungry again and see if they’ll fit you in for a second sitting.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Foodies! The quality is truly superb, and the atmosphere is perfect for a relaxed and indulgent afternoon or evening. It’d be a great one for date night, a special gathering with friends or family, or just for a treat. Wine buffs will adore the range and breadth of the wine list.
Not for: I wouldn’t come here with babies or toddlers, fine dining with a squalling 18-month-old in a high chair is an exercise in futility and you don’t want to end up wolfing your gourmet quality meal as fast as humanly possible. I probably wouldn’t come here with my school-age kiddos either as they’d just whinge about the lack of fish and chips on offer.