Let’s Ensemble in Wells
I chanced upon Ensemble in Wells last Saturday, when I was Googling something completely different (possibly killer clowns). The restaurant’s only been open since June and as I always love trying out somewhere new, I quickly nabbed a friend and we popped ourselves over there to catch the tail end of lunch.
The restaurant’s located in what was once the Old Spot restaurant in Sadler Street, the road that runs along the front of the Cathedral Green. You can enter from Sadler Street or from the Cathedral side – and in fact, there’s an incredible view of the Cathedral from the back of the restaurant.
Ensemble’s a restaurant and lounge, so you can either hang out with newspapers, coffee and maybe a Danish (or two) or eat breakfast, a light lunch or have dinner. There are set times for each of these though, so you can’t just rock up and order the triple layer sliced chorizo sausage sandwich (on the breakfast menu, yummy), at 11.30, however badly your hangover’s calling out for it.
Tables set for for eating are towards the back. Great care (and some serious cash) been gone into fitting this place out. It’s got a Scandi meets Morrocco feel which sounds odd but works. Brass panels on dividers, shelving and on the ceiling cut with thousands of holes reflect the style of the hand-painted animals on the walls. There’s Morroccan-style tiling on the floor and up around the lower walls. Nice to see stylish custom made tables and chairs instead of the ubiquitous mismatched old furniture.
Ensemble is a family business, owned by Stephen and Amy Leyton and run by cousin Simon Leyton, with interesting credentials. Grandfather Paul Leyton was a rocket scientist (literally) who established the famous Miner’s Arms in Priddy (with clientele that included Egon Ronay and Delia Smith), set up one smallest breweries in the UK, pioneered frozen foods – and farmed garden snails in a swimming pool to create an English version of l’escargot. There weren’t any ‘Mendip Wallfish’ on the menu at Ensemble that day though.
We decided on the set menu. The choice of three starters and three mains neatly covers each base with a meat, fish and veggie option. Here’s my shocking pink, chilled beetroot gazpacho, which came with a slab of deliciously chewy (Bertinet but soon to be Lievito) bread. The soup was tangy and creamy at the same time with crunchy slivers of radish and cubes of cucumber and a sprig of dill to garnish.
The game pâté (a coarse pheasant one, it turned out) came with a sherry vinaigrette, pea shoots and pâté’s best friend, cornichons and toast.
Here are the mains: a (huge) chargrilled pork chop perched on top of pureed mashed potato (you can’t see it in this pic but it’s there and it wasn’t a minute portion) with mange tout, seasonal greens and a sesame dressing.
And the fresh rigatoni, with a creamy herb sauce and those sun kissed tomatoes.
There were three choices of desserts and well, they were just heavenly *sigh and lets out waistband*. This is my passion fruit tart, which had a crisp biscuity base and came with, I think, a mango sorbet and a little langue de chat (is that what they’re called?).
This is the chocolate fondant, with a pistachio wafery biscuity thing and some blackberry coulis, which was all gooey and gorgeous inside.
Everything comes very prettily presented, don’t you think? The drinks menu has lots to tempt, with a short selection of wines and lots of spirits (I counted 11 different gins) and there are over 50 wines on the wine list proper.
Service is excellent. Simon has worked front of house in some of London’s finest hotels and restaurants, including The Dorchester, The Waldorf and Le Meridien – and apparently Michael Winner once described him as ‘one of the top three restaurant managers in the world’, so there you go.
Before we left, we checked out the tiny little area by the till where you can buy cake, a loaf of bread, bottle of flavoured oil, a stick of bread or a jar of preserves – a nice touch.
Oh – and here’s that stunning view of Wells Cathedral I mentioned earlier.
Ensemble is open Wednesdays to Saturdays from 8.30am to 11pm and on Sundays from 9.30am-3pm. Breakfast is served Weds-Sat from 8.30am-10.30am; Sun 9.30-3pm; Lunch on Weds to Sat from 12noon-2.30pm; Sunday brunch 12noon-3pm. Dinner is served Weds to Sat 6pm-8.30pm.
Good for: People who like their food to look as good as it tastes – everything’s beautifully presented. A coffee or lunchtime stop during a shopping trip, visiting the regular Farmer’s Market (every Wednesday), the Cathedral or whatever. Breakfast and newspapers on a Saturday morning. Dinner with friends, partner or family. It’s child-friendly; I spotted wooden high chairs in the corner, you can order smaller portions off the regular menu and there’s a children’s menu too, like grilled chicken breast, fresh pasta.
Not for: Slouching – the seats and banquette in the lounge area are stylish and comfortable but very definitely upright. Intimate tête–à-tête or secret rendezvous – there are no corners to hide away in and it’s glass-fronted so you’re on display to passersby.
££ Reasonable. Breakfasts range from £2.50 (toast) to £7.95 (scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on toast); a breakfast smoothie’s around£4 and a latte’s £2.80. For lunch there’s a fixed price menu with two course for £15 and three course for £17.50 as well as the a la carte which is the same for lunch and dinner. Starters from £5.25 (soup); mains between £8.95 (pasta) and £22.95 (10oz rib eye steak) with sides at £3. Grazing boards (cheese, charcuterie, calamari, salads, etc) from £5.25. The children’s menu has mains from £4.50 and desserts from £3.50.
Ensemble, 12 Sadler Street, Wells. BA5 3SE. Tel 01949 676246. ensemblewells.co.uk