“It’s our Messi and Ronaldo signing. What’s not to love about that,” Kent Barker says, having lured two of the UK’s most ambitious and dynamic young chefs Michael Carr and Ben Wood from London to relaunch his restaurant Wilding.
“It’s a really unique situation, but Michael and Ben came as a package and work so well together, that it was hard to say no,” Kent explains.
Michael and Ben are already making their mark on the Little Clarendon Street restaurant, Wilding being rammed since the soft launch this week.
“WE WANT TO CHANGE OXFORD’S CULINARY OFFERING FOR THE BETTER”
So who are they and why have they chosen Wilding to make their mark? “We knew what we were looking for; working together in the right place, with people who had the same vision,” 31 year-old Michael says, “And we have found that here.”
“We knew we could make something of Wilding, that we could really raise its game,” Ben, 30, adds.
Leaving London for a better work/life balance and moving to Oxfordshire with their girlfriends, the pair are already totally committed to their new venture.
So what do they think of the city’s culinary offering? “Oxford city centre seems quite sparse in terms of good restaurants, with lots of chains, so we want to change that for the better and produce the best food in Oxford,” Michael adds.
“YOU HAVE TO BE BETTER THAN GOOD TO SURVIVE IN OXFORD”
Judging by their CVs the’ve got a good chance of getting there: Michael joins from the esteemed Fenchurch Sky Garden in London, having worked at The Box Tree in North Yorkshire, Gordon Ramsay Group, Northcote Manor, Driftwood Hotel in Cornwall, and The Westbury, all of whom have Michelin stars.
Ben, who has a similarly impressive culinary history, worked with him at Fenchurch where the pair hit it off immediately – as they both hail from Yorkshire, are of similar age and ambition, and keen to get out of London and start something new.
The proof will be in the pudding (full review to follow), but the signs are already very promising, their new sharing plate style menu already going down a treat; think Porthilly oysters and smoked jalapeno, tarragon and dill agnolotti with green fennel and tomato, baked crab rice with lobster mayo and John Dory over coals with cep butter.
“IT WAS A CASE OF MERGE, CLOSE OR IMPROVE”
Clearly delighted with his new signings, Kent has revamped the kitchen and introduced a new chefs table in readiness for Michael and Ben’s new food offering, and it’s already paying off.
“You have to be better than good to survive in Oxford,” Kent explains, “and we were in the good bracket, competing over the same group of diners, so it was a case of merge, close or improve,” he says simply.
Having only opened the wine shop and restaurant READ ABOUT IT HERE during lockdown in 2021, he is now confident that the new line-up will make all the difference.
“I wanted to be better than that. I wanted to change that dynamic and bring Oxford something new, something better, so here we are.”
“I THINK PEOPLE WILL NOTICE THE DIFFERENCE IMMEDIATELY”
“But I’m confident we have done the right thing. It’s really exciting having some proper grown-ups in the kitchen. I could not be happier. We have created something really special here and I think people will notice the difference immediately,” Kent adds.
“We want to offer the best food in Oxford and I’m confident we can achieve that. Our bookings this weekend are already off the scale, so it looks like it’s working already.”
And with that the trio head back to the kitchens and restaurant to start a busy evening service. Look like they’d better get used to it. We can’t wait!
To book a table at Wilding or to find out more go to https://www.wilding.wine