Ed Wilson’s food is miles away from the “cooking from tins” image that forever bedevils the British kitchen. He cooks from market and farm, embracing, celebrating and luxuriating in the products of his nation. The crab is from Dorset and the pork belly is from Suffolk. Yes, he has Jamon de Teruel from Spain, and heirloom pork from the Pyrenees, but the Lincolnshire smoked eel with a tangy horseradish celeriac remoulade is where his heart is at.
There is less borrowing from the continent than Gordon Ramsey (who dined there the night before we did) and Wilson doesn’t try to re-create French or Italian cuisine. Instead, their ingredients, like snails or polenta, are given an English spin. Wilson is French-trained, as was Escoffier when he cooked at London’s Ritz, so he’s not advancing any new culinary ground, just making it completely accessible. Terroirs is a long way from tails and tie.
All these delicacies are accomplished without a single open flame. For reasons known only to the landlord, Terroirs can’t have a gas stove. The food is prepared with an electric broiler or cook top. Still, tasting the slow-cooked Suffolk pork belly, braised chickpeas and morcilla or the pot roasted quail with Italian artichokes, pancetta and gremolata evokes a meal that was simmered on a wood stove for days.
Naturally, there is a lot of cheese and charcuterie for those who want the more traditional wine bar. Here Wilson allows himself to cross the channel. The day we dined there, the cheeses were French and the charcuterie favored the Spanish and Italians.
To top it all off, the simple, yet brilliantly prepared menu is matched with an artisinal wine list; all organic, biodynamic and natural. Wilson is happy to let the wines share the spotlight with the food. “I want the food to be seasonal, but also simple, so it dies not clash with the wines.” Which, by the way, are some of the most interesting to be drunk anywhere. Many appear cloudy and fizzy with aromas of earth and moss. They are quirky and different. Dining doesn’t get better than this, only more complicated (foams) or more formal (lots of langoustines and beurre blanc).
Wilson seems to know all the grape farmers personally, or at least their philosophies. His goal isn’t to have a list with set numbers from every region. Instead his wines are chosen by what he believes in, coupled with what’s available at the moment; possibly a Boissor Rouge vin de table Vigneron or a naturally sparkling red from Cahors. This creates excitement and chases away the static sense of knowing what you will find at Terroirs.
The restaurant is a newly renovated, with dining split between the elegant street level with large windows, and a lower space with an open kitchen surrounded by a zinc wrap-around bar. Many of the tables are communal. Energy runs high among the mixed crowd – everyone from hip 20-somethings to suited 50 year olds. The décor is eclectic and welcoming, no next-wave Philippe Stark here. Terroirs is a wonderful place to drink and eat the very best that Ed Wilson and his partner Eric can find and cook. To our palette that makes it an outpost of heaven.
2008 Tracoli de Guetaria, Bodegas Ameztoi: Sparkling white from the Basque region. Green, fresh, clean.
Boissor Rouge vin de table, Vigneron: Naturally sparkling red gamay. Looks like an unfiltered mixed berry juice and taste a little like it too. Alive, unsophisticated. Made in such small batches that Ed can’t always keep it in stock.
2007 Riesling, Domaine Albert Mann, Alsace: Classic, well-made riesling. Well-balalnced.
2007 Solf du Mal, Domaine Foulard Rouges: Unfiltered. Tastes like a country wine of rural France in the 1960’s, the kind made for local consumption, never labeled, sold out of barrels to people who brought their own bottles.
Jean Foillard, Morgan: Foillard is one of the original makers of natural wines. He only makes this morgan, which is refined, elegant, tastes like gamay-meets-cabernet sauvignon.
2005 Jura, Domaine Daniel Dugois, Arbois, Savagin: A little oxidized. Nice with cheese course at end of meal.
Vivreau: Brilliant idea for bottled water. Viveau supplies the bottles and filters for either flat or sparkling waters, which the restaurant “bottles” on site.
Terroirs Wine bar and Restaurant
5 William IV Street
London WC2N 4DW
Phone 0207 036-0660