Eat Here: The Wilmington, ClerkenwellBy Jake Hawkes
Clerkenwell can feel like an odd part of London. Relatively central, it’s a mix of residential housing, shops which cater to locals, and a parallel economy founded entirely on the area’s proximity to the office-mecca of Farringdon. One side-effect of this is that the area has a lot of pubs, but very few which aren’t completely horrible.
With this in mind, we’re happy to say that The Wilmington fills an underserved niche by being not only a good upmarket boozer, but also one which balances the opportunity for a quick pint with the ambience of a sit-down country pub.
Split into two by the bar, the front of the pub is a classic watering hole with a good selection of drinks and, crucially, furniture which doesn’t feel like it’s been flat-packed together earlier that day. Behind the bar is a sit-down restaurant which benefits from the low murmur of pub chat across the room, but doesn’t necessitate eating a meal while drunk office workers loom over your table.
The food marries traditional pub fare with a focus on game and British ingredients – specials on the day of our visit included beautifully tender pigeon breast on a bed of peppery black pudding and celeriac. It’s an upmarket twist on classic seasonal fare.
Slightly less typical of old English palates, but just as delicious, are the garlic snails with nduja and sourdough toast. Nduja can easily overwhelm other flavours, but here it serves to cut through the garlic and ensure neither flavour gets the chance to dominate, with the sourdough providing a neutral base and – crucially – a vehicle to ferry it all into your mouth.
Mains are similarly mixed between old classics and new twists. The short rib and flank beef burger is fundamentally the poshest Big Mac ever created, and yes, that is a good thing. We aren’t sure whether it’s the burger sauce, the pickles, or the liberal helping of melted Gruyére, but the consistency mirrors the perfect glue-like texture of the best junk food patties, while the flavour tips its cap to Ronald McDonald without sacrificing quality. Fries are also included in the cover price, something which should be considered standard, but is frustratingly rare.
The rabbit, bacon, and leek pie is another home run. Flaky pastry, rich gravy and a hint of salt from the bacon provide the backdrop to big chunks of rabbit which fall just to the right side of gamey. People who haven’t tried rabbit before, don’t be put off – we promise you’ll never want to go back to boring old chicken pie again.
Desserts are a more mixed affair. The sweetness of the sticky toffee pudding is offset by a dollop of velvety clotted cream ice cream – no innovation here, just the best possible version of an old-fashioned classic.
The chocolate Crémeux, on the other hand, might just be a bit too rich. Tart passion fruit curd does its best to cut through the intense cocoa flavour, but doesn’t quite manage. It’s a minor complaint and the dessert is still deliciously decadent, but just make sure you really, really like chocolate before you order it.
Overall, The Wilmington is exactly what you want from a gastropub. A relaxed vibe which marries the atmosphere of a pub with the food of a classy restaurant, without sacrificing much of either. It’d be a great addition to any neighbourhood, but in a culinary area as uneven as Clerkenwell, it’s a godsend.
69 Rosebery Ave, London EC1R 4RL
For further information on The Wilmington, see here.