Let’s get right into it shall we?
The only reason that Wild Thyme has such a high rating on review sites is because of certain groups that monopolise the space: animal rights activists, messianic vegans/vegetarians, nutritionists, and organic farmers, who no matter how good or bad their meal tastes, are invested in the propounding of the restaurant. If what they ate was not to their liking, they are more likely to leave a disingenuous five-star recommendation without comment, than they are to say nothing at all (a bad review is out of the question).
The others, vegans/vegetarians from birth, converted vegetarians who have been living on Ristorante brand pizza and mac and cheese for years, meat eaters dragged there by their friends or partners, leave positive reviews because these say more about them that they do about the restaurant. Even if the occasional one complains of tardiness or flawed service, the food and restaurant on the whole are still applauded. It is not difficult to see that visiting Wild Thyme is evocative of good taste, a restaurant elevated for its congruence to hipster millennial culture.
The only people that ever give two or less stars are those who have either been uncharacteristically mistreated, are predisposed to anger, or are trolling – in any case they form the irrelevant minority.
So, in essence, each review has very little to do with the actual taste of the food, even when specifically making reference to it. I do not necessarily want to conspicuously give the game away right at the start of this piece, but I cannot understand why else people rant and rave about a restaurant that is mediocre at best.
You walk up a flight of stairs and into a loft-like space over the Rainbow Wholefoods shop below, that is quite pretty really, with its worn brick walls, open kitchen, beamed ceiling, abstract art and sombre lighting. Wooden tables and chairs are equidistantly arranged, with small ones for two placed romantically by quaintly paned windows. A couch is placed at the entrance for those waiting to be seated. Since we arrived early, cautious because of our absent reservation, we were placed in the centre of the room beside a family of four that included a very cute baby. I cannot fault the setting, the overall ambiance, the feeling of positive anticipation that it warms you into. I felt confident that this place would at the very least be better than The Tipsy Vegan, and it was, but unfortunately not as much as I had hoped.
A common occurrence with vegetarian restaurant menus is that reading each dish out loud would almost force you to take a breath after each one. They are never simple, always a hurly burley of concept and experimentation, with flavours that seem odd in marriage. Wild Thyme, on paper however, seems to do well in this regard with ingredients that seem pervasively companionable and at the extreme, curious. To start, Maddy and I ordered a plate of beetroot hummus decorated with a spattering of coriander chutney, crunchy pine nuts and crisp pita bread, and a bruschetta appetizer (turns out any sliced bit of bread with stuff on top can be called a bruschetta) topped with a piquant black olive tapenade, lost under a tumbleweed of rocket, parmesan and a petit avalanche of sautéed mushrooms.
The hummus was dry and grainy, helped a little by the fragrant chutney and toasted nuts, but still tasting like one of those supremely reduced-fat varieties taken too far. The bread in the ‘bruschetta’ was fresh tasting and the mushrooms were aptly seasoned and well cooked, but the tapenade was too overpowering to our taste, a relentless barrage exacerbated by the strength of the parmesan. I would have settled for just some of the crispy pita with a cup of the chutney, and some mushrooms on toast.
The mains at Wild Thyme were laughably unappetizing. Imagine getting a waft off a plate heading in your general direction and hoping that it was not you that ordered it. That was how I felt about the large plate of sweet potato and sage ‘dauphinoise’, a soggy puck of sweet potato cooked to mush, topped with slimy caramelised onion and wilted spinach, a crisp topped disk of goat’s cheese and surrounded by a moat filled with the most rank onion gravy I had ever tasted. The goat’s cheese was tasty if you separated it from the rest of the mess, and held your nose, but everything else was tainted by a gravy that smelt somewhere on the spectrum between overused sock and stilton. (inhale) The lemon tahini, roasted cauliflower and sweet potato pilaf with baba ghanoush, rose harissa and almond pine nut dukkah (exhale), our second main, was a hodgepodge of texture and flavour that was just plain confusing and impossible to finish. I picked out the roasted cauliflower and pushed away the rest.
Disappointed thus far with the meal, we decided to go with tried and tested puddings that didn’t do much in the way of making us feel any better. The chocolate brownie was crumbly and tasted more like cake and the Baileys crème brûlée, though scrumptious, had the consistency of firm panna cotta rather than custard. I unashamedly lapped the last up, still hungry from not eating properly in the previous courses.
In summation, having paid for relatively pretty compositions rather than praiseworthy flavours, our time at Wild Thyme was not worth the money we spent. While I get that everything on the menu is fantastically healthy, ingredients exceedingly organic, and ethically sourced, these aspects are all ancillary to my desire for delicious, skillfully constructed food, hospitably served in a charming restaurant setting. It is an unavoidable truth that good intentions do not make a good meal, a fact that any child who has had to lie to their mother after a particularly tragic meal can attest to. Wild Thyme, though full of such intentions, does not execute when it matters most, forcing me from now onward to flinch at the mention of a vegetarian dinner.
Labour in Vain Yard, Norwich NR2 1JD
Starters £5.75-£6.95; Mains £9.50-£10.95; Sides £2.95-£3.95; Puddings £5.50