Indie Interview: Wilding

 In Indie Oxford Interviews, Inspiration

Today on the blog, we catch up with Bryan the General Manager at Wilding, the new restaurant on Little Clarendon Street in Oxford, to see how they’re embedding sustainability into their business, and find out their tips for tackling single use plastic for Plastic Free July®. >>

What’s the story behind Wilding.

The story behind Wilding starts with Kent Barker and his love of wine – the romance of wine and all its possibilities. Together with Head of Wine Sarah Helliwell, they launched and made an award-winning business in Stony Street in Frome putting wine at the heart of everything, through a hybrid restaurant, wine shop and wine bar. Because of its success they wanted to take the model and develop it into Wilding – a place, first and foremost, for guests to unwind and reconnect, but also that really tries to put sustainability at the forefront of all decisions.

Wilding Wine Oxford

Wilding’s name comes from the practice of regenerating overworked land to return it to nature; such is our intention to make as little impact on the environment as possible.

We believe that the best grapes are grown with minimal intervention and that the best food is grown with regenerative agriculture. We’re not bursting to the brim with only natural wines and we are happy to have meat, fish and dairy on the menu (equally billed with plant-based or vegan), but we do buy from environmentally responsible suppliers, who are passionate about the land they cultivate. We try as much as possible to prioritise seasonality and local provenance and we work with a forager to bring bio-diverse ingredients to the menu. It’s interesting also that some of the most popular dishes are our seasonal market dishes, so all the Oxford foodies are very switched on in this regard!

Wilding Oxford

Who inspires you to act on sustainability?

Kent has kids and so do many people in the team, so they are the first source of inspiration; sustainability is about making the world a better place for the next generation and we’re rapidly running out of time to do that! In terms of our industry, we’re always impressed by Raymond Blanc’s beautiful kitchen garden and by our amazing local wine suppliers like Freedom of the Press Winery, whose minimal intervention wines respect the terroir while producing unique and beautiful wines. Closeness to the food cycle and closeness to the people who make it is something we strive for. We also take inspiration from many of our wine producers abroad such as Leon Barral in Faugeres who take a minimum intervention approach to wine making and have done so for many years in a very fuss free way.

local wine Freedom of the press

How have you managed to embed sustainability within the business?

In terms of the engineering and structure of Wilding, we ripped out the old energy system and now use the most energy efficient systems we could. That was a massive cost and overhaul that wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t put sustainability first. We buy from local (Oxfordshire being ideal, but British being next up) as much as possible and we buy quality, so it may be more expensive, but the farming is respecting biodiversity and soil enrichment. We have eliminated single use plastic and disposables except for masks and covid-applicable items, for instance La Eva, an ecologically-friendly skincare brand that is local and whose hand wash we refill. Our 10 wines on tap are also all available for people to take away in our own refillable glass bottles sealed with our corking machine, thus offering a closed loop system with minimal waste.

Wilding Oxford Wine on tap_@charlie mckay
Image by Charlie Mckay

What is the biggest challenge you face as a business in terms of sustainability?

A toss up between waste of food (which is why we’re working on a new menu that tackles this head on and is coming soon!) and waste of packaging. The latter is one of the reasons we love our wine on tap and love many of our wholesale suppliers who deliver their produce with minimal packaging, but there are still occasions it is hard to avoid. We are constantly pushing our suppliers to do better on this, many of our suppliers are now ISO 14001 accredited which is an environmental set of criteria. Also Jascots operate a carbon neutral fleet of delivery vans which is the direction we are asking all of our suppliers to move towards.

wine on tap upcycled labels

This month is Plastic Free July®, what are your tips for reducing single use plastics in our businesses and homes?

At home, go zero waste as much as possible – you can support the amazing grocers we have like at The Covered Market in Oxford, and take your non-plastic shopping tote bag and fill it with all the amazing produce they have that is without the packaging you get in supermarkets. Zero waste shops are obviously the best for all kinds of products that avoid single use plastic – get your dry goods and even your washing up brush with replaceable heads – they have thought of everything! And lots of them do delivery too. Use our refill wine bottles and bring it back to try something else next time – great for exploring quality, good value wines!

In terms of businesses, you can have wooden or genuinely biodegradable cutlery if you do takeaway, and we hope to see the comeback of personal reusable coffee cups. We would love to see more places asking you to bring your own metal Tupperware for takeaways, when covid allows. And for eat in restaurants, it’s about careful and well equipped kitchens that are being responsibly managed. One way to do this is try to make things from scratch as much as possible, like we do with our ice creams, chutneys and syrups for the bar. Or if you do buy things in, try to buy with genuinely recyclable or reusable packaging (glass, metal etc.). In house butchery is something we are working on to make the most of the animal and every cut and we store our produce in reusable containers, with staff being trained not to throw away, always clean and reuse. Training and education is a big part of the behaviour change we can all work on to reduce single use plastics.

Wilding Oxford fresh veg

Which other sustainability-focused local businesses do you love to support?

La Eva, as mentioned, makes such beautifully smelling and ecologically-friendly hand wash for us. We always get such great comments on them!

Ox3greens, who supply our delicious fresh micro herbs, use vertical farming and their proximity and approach means zero food miles and zero pesticides. We love what they do.

Our beautiful woven garden fencing is hand made by Imogen at WonderWood Willow just outside of Oxford, all sustainably sourced from the local forests.

Our Fish supplier is New Wave Seafood whose produce is not only superb but responsibly sourced with a special emphasis on small Cornish day boats which catch the fish and shellfish using the most sustainable methods and handle the product with care and attention.

ox3 greens Oxford
wonderwood oxford
New Wave Seafood

For our Fruit and Veg we use Bonners Fruit & Veg from The Covered Market – they are passionate about supporting local farmers and reducing the carbon foot print across the food chain; reducing plastic packaging and doing all their central Oxford deliveries on foot (and soon electric bikes!) keeping those food miles low. They get much of their produce from Rectory Farm who are uncompromising when it comes to the quality of their local produce.

For our meat we have two suppliers: Vicar’s Game, who are just near Reading and who only buy quality animals of the right age and physique with most of the game very local to the Newbury area and where there are many large estates and farms within the surrounding 30 miles, all of which have to control and manage the animals that are intent on eating their crops. The second supplier is Aubrey Allen, considered to be Britain’s Best Butchers, whose range of meats are from farms where animals are naturally reared, i.e. pretty much the furthest from factory farming you can get.

Jericho Coffee Traders provide all our coffee – they roast their own stunning single origin beans which also help to support families, farms, charities and coffee cooperatives around the world.

Barefoot bakery is where we get our yummy pastries and cakes, so super local and therefore food miles are low.

Fabulous flowers deliver us with stunning dried flowers, which last so much longer than fresh flowers and which is why they’re a much more sustainable option because growing and shipping cut flowers consumes a lot of energy and water.

Fabulous Flowers_@charliemckay
Image by Charlie Mckay

What’s on the horizon for Wilding?

We’ve just brought in quite a few new things!

We’re now open 7 days a week 10 am – 11 pm.

We have a breakfast menu which encourages people to Work From Wilding – including Unlimited Tea or Coffee when they buy a pastry (Mon to Thurs, 10 am – midday).

Brunch is now available on the weekend (10 am – midday)

We have Oyster Bar Fridays where oysters are £2 each – served natural, with Vinegar & Shallot or Kilpatrick style. Oysters of course are one of the most sustainable foods due to the way they  purify the water they’re growing in and the fact that both native and farmed oysters sequester nitrogen and CO2 from the atmosphere. They also go terribly well with a glass of Chablis!

A new “Waste Not, Want Not” lunch menu is starting soon which we’re super excited about as it’s such a great way to give people a cost effective lunch, but mainly to make sure we’re not wasting food.

We have Wine Tastings coming up. They are our most well loved offerings down in Frome due mainly to Sarah’s amazing knowledge and our fun, informal style. We have a FISH & CHIPS & SPARKLING WINES (11 Aug) and ALTERNATIVE SPAIN (01 Sep).

In terms of seasonal dishes, a menu update is coming soon, so keep eyes peeled on our socials for news soon!

Oyster Bar Fridays - sustainable food
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