Bull & Wren Restaurant Review
Updated: Feb 24, 2022
We have yet another restaurant review for you in our quest to provide you with only the finest foodie experience possible. We put Excelsiors Bull and Wren through the paces and scrutinized every detail this time.
Bull and Wren sits in historic Excelsior, where Jake O'Conners once sat for many years. With an Irish pub feel and menu, it is a cozy spot to make you feel like you are in a pub in Ireland. I've not set foot in Ireland, but I have in England. I can imagine the pubs to be similar but not identical. With that being said, Bull and Wren did encompass what I saw in London. Its cozy atmosphere, and warm and inviting decor make it a restaurant I'd eat at often.
Here is what they have to say about themselves:
"Independent, owner-operated, authentic Irish gastropub. Specializing in craft cocktails, beer, and pub classics with a modern twist."
**Gastropub: This typically describes a bar/ public house serving higher-quality pub food. It's short for Gastronomy Pub.
Yes, that's all I've found on them from their website. Typically I'd like to see some sort of about section, but ok, we will go with that. With a restaurant located just a block away from Lake Minnetonka and in the heart of so many historic buildings, much could have been written.
We've visited Three times for our review, so let's jump right and get things started… but first, how many stars would I give them? 3 out of 5.
This is a new section I've added specifically for this restaurant. I've never worked at Bull and Wren, but I have noticed the minor touches they provide to their customers. On one of our visits, we had mentioned that it was an anniversary in the reservation notes- One of the managers had written out a card to congratulate us. It's small touches like these, ones that create a family-like atmosphere that score substantial brownie points on my end. I've not seen another restaurant do this.
Then there was COVID-19. Bull and Wren opened up in truly one of the worst times for restaurants, and shortly after their opening, they had to shut down indoor dining. I heard reports of food trucks being turned away and worried about them. Despite this, the managers ran the take-out and were genuinely grateful for everyone's support- they were struggling, but the managers kept at it and reached out to their customers, and we're thankful for them. Again, instances of management genuinely caring for their customers and not just a director of employees.
Upon entering the restaurant, the atmosphere was very warm and inviting. You're met with dark woods, cozy lighting, and a fireplace off to the side. There are book cases and various decor items in the front room that genuinely make the restaurant feel historical, traditional, and very warm and inviting.
The atmosphere isn't fancy, not upscale; it's casual- just what you'd expect from a Pub. They aren't trying to be anything they're not- just what I like to see. The bar was also gorgeous- it was from Jake O'Conners. Though we didn't venture down into the basement, they have a whiskey bar; we will leave this out of our review and stay focused on the traditional restaurant side.
Aaaand... this is where it hits the fan. I could not have been more disappointed in the service I've received here. This is true of 2 out of the three times I've been here. Having to wait about 45 minutes from ordering for Appetizers and then having to wait probably another 20 minutes after that was disappointing. On our most recent visit, we had a server that forgot about our drinks, gave one of us the wrong drink, and didn't check in with how everything tasted.
To be fair, we went on a very busy night- Excelsiors Klondike Dog Derby. We did, however, arrive at 7:00 PM when the festivities were done. So why was everything so sluggish? I don't know. I want to say I had fantastic service, honestly, but it just fell short. I've heard numerous other people say the same, so they have some kinks to sort out.
Upon our visits, we had a variety of food, but we will stick to a discussion on our most recent time to be fair. We had the Irish Whiskey & Coke Wings, Fish & Chips, and the Coq Au Vin. Taking just a look at the food, and with the mindset of it being pub food, I'm still disappointed. It's decent food, but there are some easy fixes to make it go from bar food to gastropub food.
Let's begin with a look at the Whiskey and Coke Wings. It was served with celery, carrots, and ranch that wasn't homemade. The main thing here, of course, is the wings. Now... I can't judge flavor fully here. The wings were ok; they were a bit dry, and the sauce? Nearly nonexistent. It was almost as if we were eating fried chicken with a tablespoon of sauce for the whole dish. From what I tasted, it was a sweeter sauce. Good, if it were actually on the wings. And as usual, it took an extended period to get the food for wings... not sure why this would take any more than 15 minutes.
Moving right along to the fish and chips. *sigh* having had authentic fish and chips, I'm a bit of a snob for it. And I'm utterly disappointed. Let's start with the coleslaw- not made in-house, flavorless, disappointing, that's all that needs to be said. "Chips," ok, so in the United Kingdom, chips are roughly American fries. I say roughly because they are NOT the same, and NOT potato wedges. I have yet to find a restaurant in the United States with authentic "chips." What they are truly is a chunky fry, not a potato wedge. At Bull and Wren, they served the fish with potato wedges. And finally the fish, some of the most disappointing fried fish I've ever had. The frying oil was dirty- you could taste it in the fish, and the batter was flavorless. So really, it was a piece of fish that had a fish texture and taste of fry oil.
Finally, the Coq Au Vin. Now, what is this dish traditionally, you ask? It's a dish from France consisting of chicken, a red wine sauce, and a collection of mushrooms, lardons, perhaps some carrots. Bull and Wren do this with a slightly different collection of vegetables. They served it with carrots, leeks, and whipped potatoes. I thought this dish was Wonderful, good comfort food, the chicken was flavorful and moist, the potatoes were creamy and light, and the sauce had decent flavor. There were two exceptions here... the sauce was over seasoned with salt, and the carrots were nearly rock hard—simple fixes here, less salt, and cook the carrots more. Overall though, good comfort food in a pub.
Overall & Hotel Excelsior
I mentioned earlier that I went to Bull and Wren during the Excelsior Klondike Dog Derby. An extraordinary event with dogs racing up Main Street and around the lake. Upon our time, we stayed at Hotel Excelsior right on Main Street. Overall it was a wonderful stay, with a great view of the dogs, a large spacious room, and newly renovated. Unfortunately, we had a few hiccups though. We asked for an early check-in a week before we arrived and were granted it; the people before us also asked for a late checkout... Though promised a 1:00 check-in, we didn't get in until 3:00, around when the dogs were done; we intended to watch the dogs from the room. And then there was the unfortunate housekeeping situation, there were no housekeepers, and the maintenance man had to clean our room. He was very kind and very apologetic for the inconvenience. Some things were missed, a throw blanket on the bed, a dirty paper towel in the sink, no trash bags, but the usual crew didn't clean it. Overall a great stay, but there seemed to be a lack of communication between the owner and staff... a bit disappointing. Still, it was a hectic weekend for everyone in Excelsior.
Our stay at Hotel Excelsior was good overall, and Bull and Wren was decent. The big question is, will I return to Bull and Wren? Yes, I will return there. The food was disappointing, except for the Coq Au Vin, and the service was dismal. But the atmosphere was exceptional, the management cared for their customers, and it wasn't trying to be anything that they weren't.
Bull and Wren wasn't trying to be a fancy bar; they tried to be an Irish Gastropub. Did they meet that expectation? in some ways, yes, in others, no. Does the service need help? Yes. Does the food? Yes. But it is a cozy restaurant, not too expensive, and has comfort food that one could crave.
And so, my rating of Bull and Wren is 3 out of 5 stars. The decent experience is slightly underwhelming and needs some work. I would return, but I'd like to see some significant improvements in the future.
"The Flying Chef"