James ‘Wilks’ Wilkins and Christine Vayssade have a difficult task opening new restaurant Wilks in Chandos Road, Redland. For this was for the last eight years Culinaria, one of Bristol’s best and most-loved restaurants, ran by husband and wife team Stephen and Judy Markwick and reviewed by Jay Rayner in the Observer only a fortnight before it closed last month.
Comparisons are impossible not to make with what was here before, but Wilks is virtually unrecognisable from what it was in its former life.
The fridges with pre-made food to take away and serve at home are still there by the front door, but apart from that this is a brand new restaurant, something that Christine was keen to stress when I commented to her that she has big footsteps to follow.
The light blue colour scheme has gone to be replaced by darker shades, with a heavily varnished floor, the table tops made of gauze, and modern black lamp shades hanging from the ceiling.
A nice touch is small pieces of pottery on each table made by The Village Pottery on Princess Victoria Street in Clifton, while for some quirkiness have a look out for the painting of an astronaut on one wall, made poignant with yesterday’s announcement of the death of Neil Armstrong.
I visited on Friday lunchtime, and after enjoying a generous amount of bread from Mark’s Bread in Southville, I chose the daily special, braised duck leg served in aromatic spices with pak choi, with a wonderfully crispy skin.
The daily special is £12 on its own, and £14 accompanied by a drink. My house white was a Sindo Rueda Verdejo from Spain.
All this – apart from the wine – I shared with my young daughter. There was no high chair when we came in, but a member of staff was soon dispatched and came back with a chair a few minutes’ later from a friend down the road.
Open Wednesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, Wilks’ menu is modern European, inspired by James and Christine’s travels and experiences. The pair, engaged to be married, have previously worked together in London, France, Japan and Istanbul.
Wilks is their first solely-owned venture, with dishes ranging from River Exe mussels and chicken broth as part of the set lunch menu (two courses for £16, three for £19), roasted wild turbot (£19) and root vegetables baked in salt crust (£12) as part of the dinner a la carte options.
A generous selection of puddings include textures of dark chocolate (£7), “a ball of strong coffee ice cream” (£6) and a mosaic of poached and fresh summer fruits (£6).
The Markwicks may be gone but definitely not forgotten, and on the Culinaria website they promise a few surprises to come next year.
In their place, Wilks has got off to a splendid start and deserves to be a success, perhaps one day becoming one of Bristol’s best-loved restaurants in its own right.