Shropshire Star

Food review: Plenty of spirit at the bar and bistro with a pun in its name

It’s a great name, isn’t it. Unwind. Unwined. The pun writers were being paid overtime on the day Unwined Bar and Bistro came into being.

Fried whitebait

It’d be nice to think that the restaurant followed the name, you know, that some really clever, really funny people sat around a table, glass of Chablis in hand, writing the names of their fantasy restaurant - just like kids once sat around bar tables coming up with killer names for bands.

Someone, at least two glasses in, suggested Unwined And Dined - though the sensible one of the group told them to stop, and to give their place a name that did what it said on the tin: Bar And Bistro.

And then the two of them decided to compromise, and stick with the Unwined bit, while adding the Bar & Bistro, in case anyone thought the place with the twinkly lights that serves food was actually a garage.

The theory’s great, though, having enjoyed the warm hospitality of Unwined Bar And Bistro on a chilly spring evening, the reality is probably different.

More likely, the origins came when a group of food enthusiasts decided they really needed to put their passion into a business to open a small, independent restaurant.

Because you have to love what you do to survive in a trade that’s been hard hit by Brexit, the cost of living crisis, Covid, and so many other factors.

And Unwined is a place that’s brimful of passion.

The downtown lights of Tenbury Wells

Standards are good. Service was warm, engaging and pleasant and on a chilly early spring evening, the downtown lights were twinkling as staff made guests welcome.

The brilliant chef Marco Pierre White also rates environment, then service, then food, as the three key ingredients of a good night out.

And in the case of Unwined Bar and Bistro, the environment was delightful. Couples, families, and those simply passing through were relaxed and made to feel welcome in a warmly decorated space where nothing was too much trouble.

And that, in essence, is what’s on the menu at Unwined.

A stylish dining area and enthusiastic, friendly staff make it a great place to relax and unwind.

It would be gilding the lily to suggest the food makes it a destination worth a John O’Groats-to-Land’s End-length drive.

The selection is standard fayre, the sort of stuff you’d pick up at most self-respecting tapas bars in towns across the region.

There’s a nod to Britishness, while the inspiration is avowedly Spanish.

And while I’ve never visited a Catalonian tapas bar that does sweet potato fries, or a chicken and avocado panini with sweet chilli, the absence of authenticity is a side issue for a venue that majors in offering free servings of bonhomie with every course.

Mushroom croquettes

I visited during a midweek service and ate a few nibbles to find out more.

I wasn’t a fan of the bread, it was no better than the sort of mass-produced stuff you’d buy in a supermarket.

And for all of the warmth and good hospitality, restaurants that choose not to aim high on the basics reveal something underwhelming when they neither make great stuff in-house - and, of course, not all can, because of time and cost - nor select good local producers, and nearby, there are a small number from whom to choose.

Mushroom croquettes were better, mixing earthy, umami flavours in a golden, deliciously crisp outer shell. And that’s where Unwined started to come alive.

Simple dishes were prepared with precision, if not with flair, and made for pleasant eating.

Whitebait was similarly good. A simple dish, it had flavours of the seaside and tasted salty and fresh.

A simple Mediterranean salad also made for good eating and featured well-sourced ingredients served in simple fashion.

Three courses and stodgy bread left little room for dessert and it was time to hit the road.

But by then Unwined had already made a favourable impression.

Small, independent restaurants in market towns don’t always have the luxury of sourcing super expensive ingredients, nor, indeed, of making exceptional, in-house breads.

They’re too focused on the bottom line, on getting people through the door, and on firefighting the plague of challenges that have hit restaurants hard in recent years and it’s a wonder more haven’t gone to the wall.

The anchovy salad featured well-sourced ingredients

Yet hospitality is an invigorating, can-do, go-get-’em sector, and such spirit and attitude is alive and kicking at Unwined.

The team there make the effort, put in a big shift, and do what they can to ensure people are welcome.

And that, more than rubbish bread, is what counts, and what leaves a lasting impression.

It might not be possible to wax lyrical about sensational ingredients or a chef who is reinventing the wheel, it is entirely appropriate to sing the praises of a venue that does (most of) the basics well and clearly cares.

There’s heart and soul and a warming spirit at Unwined, and it’s owners should be commended for creating such an hospitable venue.