Restaurant review: Wildes Wine Bar & Bistro, Grape Lane, York

Wildes Wine Bar & Bistro

15 Feb 2014 @ 12.19 pm
| Food & drink
And the Oscar goes to… Wildes on Grape Lane, York. Photograph: Richard McDougall
And the Oscar goes to… Wildes on Grape Lane, York. Photograph: Richard McDougall

ron-godfrey-headshot-caricatureRon Godfrey breezes into Wildes Restaurant in wilde, wilde weather

After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives. So says Oscar Wilde through Lady Caroline, the wise and witty character in his play, A Woman Of No Importance.


And Algernon Moncrieff in Wilde’s most famous play, The Importance Of Being Earnest, observes: “When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that consoles me.

“Indeed, when I am in really great trouble, as anyone who knows me intimately will tell you, I refuse everything except food and drink.”

With Oscar’s aphorisms paying such eloquent homage to cuisine, Wildes wine bar and bistro in Grape Lane, York, has a lot to live up to.

The interior

Mellow… inside the bistro
Mellow… inside the bistro

Mrs G and I literally whooshed in through the front door on the back of a 70mph gale with a light-twinkling topiary ball at the entrance bouncing and swinging like a church bell in an earthquake.

The fact that there were a handful of other straggle-haired windswept diners who had risked all to get there, augured well.

It is a mellowly-lit place, with pastel patchwork wall lighters and, set in a ceiling of shiplap boarding, are chessboard squared coloured leadlights.

These shed a gentle hue on hardwood pews with stripy cushions and the effect is to make some of the coloured posters of gorgeous Edwardian women a la Aubrey Beardsley glow.

It gives some credibility to the little restaurant’s website description as “exactly the type of place you would expect to find the playwright and poet after being exiled to France”.

And, fancifully, giving his approval, the great man gets pride of place in a massive framed photograph of him sprawling on a sofa in languid pose, the image reflected in ornate-framed mirrors.

But first signs that things were going wrong came when Ollie, our seemingly distracted waiter, showed us to our table just below the speakers pumping out an eclectic mixture of jazz, ballads, electronic dance music and reggae.

It was next to the bar and opposite a wonky side door leading to a snickleway which customers used to leave by, then failed to shut properly, exposing us to a thin, howling sliver of icy breeze which cut through our knees.

The food

Bad omen No 2 came when, having called for my statutory diabetic’s Diet Coke, Mrs G ordered a large glass of the house red wine at £3.50 and was told: “Sorry, we’ve run out.” Would the large Merlot at £5.20 do instead?

It was hard to fathom why a bistro, which is also a wine bar, would run out of its house wine. Whatever, the restaurant benefited by £1.70

We also felt a bit betrayed, having scoured the website menu at home and concluded that the prices were reasonable enough to justify fighting the gale to get there.

However, we discovered that many of the dishes publicised online gone up in price on the restaurant menu.

For example, Wildes platter – onion rings, potato wedges, garlic bread, chicken goujons, side salad with barbecue and sour cream dips – had increased from £8.45 to £9.95; and a Wildes burger (topped with bacon, mushrooms and cheese) went from £9.95 to £10.25.

Look, we all know that increases in staple prices and wages are bound ultimately to reach the customer, but when it happens restaurateurs should not forget to change their website menus accordingly to avoid people being misled.

Both of us were tempted by potato melts – wedges topped with melted cheese plus salad and a choice of dips at £4.95.

We decided, though, on a shared starter of cheese and mushroom garlic bread.

It may have cost £3.75, which was 25p more than the internet version, but it was worth it – arriving promptly, hot, soft, filling, plentiful, and bursting with cheese-swathed mushrooms. Yum.

Starter: cheese and mushroom garlic bread
Starter: cheese and mushroom garlic bread
Haddock and spring onion fishcakes
Haddock and spring onion fishcakes
Beef sauté Dijon
Beef sauté Dijon

Mrs G hesitated over freshly made lasagne topped with cheese but resisted the idea given that garlic bread was another component of the £8.50 dish and we were already bulge-tummied with our garlic bread starter.

She also tinkered with the notion of griddled Cajun chicken breast served with chips, onion rings and salad at £9.95.

Instead she beamed in on the smoked haddock and spring onion fishcakes at £9.25. It arrived prettily arranged on a bed of fresh salad and hefty potato wedges with tartare sauce and chilli dips.

“This haddock is so-oo smoky and tasty,” she declared, waving a morsel on her fork like a trophy.

My choice: beef sauté Dijon at £11.95. Plentiful, almost to a fault, it consisted of a huge pile of fillet beef cooked with mushrooms in a creamy white wine and Dijon mustard sauce with rice and a token salad.

There was such plentiful beef and mushrooms in that heavenly sauce that there wasn’t much left on the plate for the rice or the salad. Still, I cleared the plate in a lip-smacking jiffy.

Even after waiting for the food to settle, we decided that the tempting puddings were too much to handle.

For the record, though, they were all £3.95 and included home-made bonoffe pie; raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake; sticky toffee pudding and all served with cream, custard or ice cream.

So what would Oscar Wilde have thought of Wildes? He would have been appreciative except that he might have baulked at the price rises.

After all, wining and dining his petulant and illicit friend, Bosie, otherwise known as Lord Alfred Douglas in the restaurants of Paris is what nearly brought the author and raconteur to financial ruin before his eventual imprisonment. Price increases would not have been appreciated.

He would also have appreciated its longevity. Ollie pulled himself away from surfing his smartphone to tell us that the restaurant was a family business run by the Tunstall family.

He had no idea exactly how old it was, “except that my father used to come here 30 years ago.”

We left via that darned side door through which the freezing gale whistled and hissed. And once out made sure it was decidedly shut.


Check out special lunchtime sandwich offers, which include a drink. In calmer, sunnier weather Wildes has three wrought iron tables outside to accommodate al fresco dining.

Inside, there are 21 seats, and seven of them can be set aside for gatherings, including space upstairs festooned with brilliant photographs on display.

The place is said to be popular with students, tourists and local regulars.

The bill

Large Merlot £5.20
Diet Coke £1.40
Mushroom and cheese garlic bread £3.75
Beef sauté Dijon £11.95
Smoked haddock and spring onion fishcakes £9.25

Total £31.55

The verdict

Food: Basic but tasty and well-presented ★★★★
Service: Distracted but got there… ★★★
Ambience: Charming and pretty but not gale-proof ★★★★
Value: Relatively good, but more than expected ★★★

Overall rating: just over ★★★

Wildes Wine Bar & Bistro | 21 Grape Lane, York YO1 7HU | 01904 610 370 | [email protected] |