“Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.”
Inspiration is everywhere, you just have to be receptive to seeing it. In my line of work, you try and store it, to use in the future for who-knows-what. It’s part of the creative toolkit that helps me to do the job I do.
I love nothing more than venturing into other creative sectors to see how they do things. So the prospect of lunch in The Wilderness, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Birmingham, filled me with great excitement.
The creativity and crafting of the food, the flavour combinations and taste sensations were all exceptional, but what wasn’t on the menu – and did take me by surprise – was the thought and detail that went into the overall experience. The connecting of the seemingly unconnectable created something new and different, completely re-defining my expectation of a fine dining experience.
The Wilderness is described as one of Birmingham’s most creative fine dining restaurants. Chef-owner Alex Claridge was born and bred in the city and is largely self-taught. His food is inspired by ingredients and dishes that ignite memories and reactions, designed to be eclectic and entertaining. When you visit you aren’t just buying a meal – you are part of an experience.
“I want the dining experience to be as relaxed as possible and I want everyone to feel welcome. I’m not interested in making fine dining stuffy or inaccessible, I don’t care what you wear, I just want you to have the best possible time.”
Location is everything
Located about a mile out of the city centre in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, the location is low-key, at the end of a dark back street with a distinct lack of signage. This is a chef that knows the city well and is making a confident statement in his choice of location. It wouldn’t have the same accessibility in a premium part of town – and with a Michelin star, people will travel to visit.
Most interestingly, although the interior design is moody and dark, there was a powerful juxtaposition between the environment of the street and the interior of the restaurant. It was like stepping into another world and definitely heightened the initial immersive impact.
The tasting menu was playful. It included dishes titled ‘Big Mac’ and ‘Milk and Cookies’ – a clever play with flavours and an acknowledgement of how food is connected to our memories and emotions. It’s food that we already have a notion of, but don’t usually associate with fine dining. Encountering those familiar flavours in this high-end context made for a really accessible, fun experience.
The dishes looked deceptively simple, but boy the flavours were complex. It was like tasting in surround-sound, with contrasting yet complementary flavours and textures – it was almost impossible to put your finger on what you were eating. At the end of our meal, our server asked if we had a favourite dish. Not a difficult question to answer, you would’ve thought, but I found it hard to pull one out of the mix. It was so cleverly put together, the whole thing telling a story that, once experienced, couldn’t be pulled apart.
Alex describes The Wilderness as “Rock and Roll Fine Dining” and that was certainly reflected in the style of the service: the waiters’ “edgy yet friendly” vibe, the inspiration for the interior design, and the not-so-background rock music. (I think Meatloaf may have featured at one point – Bat Out of Hell anyone?)
What I’m taking away from my visit (and what I may well reference in the future, if you’re ever lucky enough to be in a meeting with me), is the completely joined up experience. This is something that lots of brands struggle to understand or deliver. The Wilderness has gone well beyond the product they are selling (the food) and have managed to tap into customers’ memories and emotions. Primarily via the food but also at every touchpoint – the location, environment, service and music – to create a completely immersive experience.
And that is, in essence, a great example of brand at its most powerful.