The iconic Wilshire gets a menu makeover, thanks to chef Brendan Collins
By Audrey Cleo Yap
2545 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica
(310) 586-1707; wilshirerestaurant.com
Growing up in Nottingham, England, Brendan Collins knew the warmth and homeyness of local pubs well. And while he was working at a two-star Michelin restaurant by age 17, he didn’t soon forget the importance of that pub-inspired hospitality.
“I think people have forgotten what real hospitality is. It’s bringing people to a restaurant where they actually feel welcome, you know?” said Collins, tattoos peeking out from under his short-sleeved shirt, a nod to the laidback “lad” attitude he’s known for. “You’d be surprised at how many restaurants you go to where you don’t feel welcome.”
He has brought that same grounded sensibility and culinary style to Santa Monica’s Wilshire since the end of last year, when Collins took over as executive chef. The long-standing fine dining staple is known for its outdoor patio, making it a popular option for private events and functions.
Collins was in the process of closing Birch, his British-inspired outpost in Hollywood, when he took the helm at Wilshire, scratching an itch to get back to the Westside where he had been earlier in his career (he spent four years at Mélisse).
“[Wilshire] is an iconic space. It’s been around forever, and it deserved better than what it had for the last five or six years,” said Collins.
To get its menu out of what Collin calls a “salmon, chicken, beef” rut, Collins and chef de cuisine Weston Ludeke have added a variety of seasonally driven fare, ranging from the deliciously quirky to familiar.
A hamachi crudo gets a fruity punch with pomegranate; the jumbo lump crab donut comes on an actual donut. Other standouts include a savory chicken liver pâté served over huckleberries, an echo of a popular dish from Collins’s previous Culver City venture, Waterloo & City; Collins says patrons should feel free to quote the famous Val Kilmer line from “Tombstone” when ordering it. The newly added patatas bravas are a well-seasoned spin on the Spanish staple.
Perhaps no surprise to diners on the Westside, veggie dishes, like the cauliflower schwarma, (zaatar yogurt, avocado-cilantro puree) are fan favorites.
“Cauliflower sells like crazy, brussels sprouts sell like crazy — which is a kind of annoying, but I guess it’s f–king California and Los Angeles,” said Collins with a laugh.
For dessert, the Sicilian cannoli is a deconstructed, sweet and fruity coda. And for those imbibing, the drinks menu will not disappoint, with a well-stocked wine list and clever concoctions like the Chai Tai, a rum, lime juice and cinnamon mix ideal for ocean-infused 68-degree fall weather.
Collins first fell in love with food at age 11; home sick from school, he remembered watching episodes of a TV show centered on chef Anton Mosimann traveling the world, eating and cooking. By age 17, Collins had finished culinary school and started his first job at La Gavroche, a two-star Michelin restaurant, in London. He made his way to Los Angeles in 2002 as part of a wave of newbie chefs looking to energize the city’s dining scene.
“We laid the ground rules for what is now one of the best restaurant scenes in the country. I feel proud that I was part of that and continue to be a part of that,” said Collins.
And it’s a tradition he plans to carry on from the Westside at Wilshire, no matter how many hot shot East Coasters set up shop elsewhere in the city.
“They are definitely moving here,” said Collins, “but I think it’s always kind of the homegrown talent that seems to succeed more so than the guy that comes in and piles a bunch of money in.”