The Wellbourne trio on opening in Bristol and bringing back the vol-au-vent

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Former Dabbous team members on Bristol restaurant Wellbourne
Three alumni of Michelin-starred London restaurant Dabbous are to open a relaxed but ambitious restaurant in Clifton later this month. Chefs Ross Gibbens and Michael Kennedy and front of house man Martin Irwin will offer a keenly priced lunch menu centered around open sandwiches and vol-au-vents and an a la carte menu in the evening.

Why Bristol?

Ross Gibbens:​ It’s a lifestyle choice as well as a business choice. It’s a great place to live. I’ve got a family and I can afford a proper house here, in London we were living in a tiny flat.
Martin Irwin:​ I came to Bristol for university and worked at The Rummer Hotel. I left for London in 2010 and since then the restaurant scene in the city has exploded. I always thought I’d come back here at some point. It’s got a brilliant community feel.
Michael Kennedy:​ I’ve already been down here for a year or so cooking at Wallfish Bistro, which is near to Wellbourne in Clifton Village.

Bristol has a great restaurant scene but the midweek market can be tricky, what’s the plan to drive business early in the week?

Martin Irwin:​ We’re fully aware that it can be tough. Our solution is a very different style of daytime offering. Rather than do three courses for £15, which we think is potentially a lot of work for a small return, we’re doing bar food and open sandwiches. It will have some of the DNA of the evening a la carte offering but it will be very affordable. An open sandwich and a glass of wine will cost about £10.
Michael Kennedy:​ Such a simple offer will also allow us to have less staff on service during the day.

And we see you’re bringing the vol-au-vent back...

Ross Gibbens:​ Absolutely. We want the restaurant to have a modern wine bar feel and the vol-au-vent some how fits in with that. It was a bit of a cliché when I was younger but it’s a great thing if you get it right.
Michael Kennedy:​ They’ll be £2.50 a pop or three for £6. The range includes Cardigan Bay shrimps, smoked paprika and rapeseed mayonnaise as well as chopped veal, Berkswell and chervil.

What were you roles at Dabbous?

Ross Gibbens:​ I was head chef, Michael was my senior sous and Martin was the assistant general manager. We worked together for two years and previous to that I worked with Michael at Launceston Place, so we all know each other really well.

Given your background you’d expect a tasting menu in the evening...

Ross Gibbens:​ We’re keen to send out a strong signal that the restaurant is approachable and not too high-end. We’ve tried to create the sort of restaurant we’d like to eat in on our days off. That means a flexible menu and an accessible price point - starters are about £8 and mains start at £14. The launch menu includes spatchcock quail, buttermilk, white radish and golden raisins; duck, wild sour cherries and sea beet; and peach, milk curd, fresh honeycomb and marigold.

Tell us about the site...

Martin Irwin:​ It used to be a curry house. We’ve totally gutted it and replaced one of the external walls with windows to make the space much lighter.
Michael Kennedy:​ We’re sandwiched between Cote and The Ivy Clifton Brasserie. Our prices will be comparable to Cote at lunchtimes so we’re hoping we’ll do okay.

Are you going for that stripped back Dabbous look?

Martin Irwin:​ It won’t be quite as stripped back but it will have a minimal feel. The main features will be a big wine display, a beautiful oak floor and a zinc-topped bar. There won’t be any tablecloths, which probably won’t come as a surprise.

And what about the food, will that have any similarities to what was served at Dabbous?

Ross Gibbens: ​Ollie Dabbous has had a big influence on how we approach food and we’d be mad not to embrace that. His cooking is clean and elegant and he’s good at making the main ingredient the star of the show. But equally we’ve worked in other kitchens and have our own ideas, so that will be rolled in too. The cooking at Wellbourne will be simple and restrained.

What’s the reaction from local chefs been like?

Michael Kennedy:​ It’s an amazing community. We’ve already received a huge amount of support, not least introductions to suppliers. Jan (Ostle) from Wilsons has even offered to give us the surplus ingredients he grows for his own restaurant.

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