Wood Manchester, Jack Rosenthal Street, Manchester, M15 4RA – Visit Now
There have only been 14 MasterChef champions since the BBC relaunched the show in 2005 and Simon Wood is one of them, the Chadderton-born chef serving up his winning dish to the dribbling judges back in 2015. Technically speaking, there’s no Grossman in the latest format, but with a visually-intriguing and often sweaty Gregg Wallace at the helm, many viewers must feel Loyd’s surname has taken on a new meaning with MasterChef.
A reputation for sky-high standards and meticulous service
Simon opened WOOD Manchester in September 2017 and achieved national recognition pretty sharpish. It’s in this year’s Michelin Guide and has two AA Rosettes. Anecdotally speaking, WOOD Manchester is one of the best of-its-kind restaurants in the city and has a reputation for sky-high standards and meticulous service.
WOOD is in the First Street development by Home, keeping up appearances in the company of more casual establishments, such as Gas Works and of course, its noisy neighbour, Bunny Jacksons, which ever-so-slightly undercuts Simon’s £49 tasting menu with 10p chicken wings. I like to imagine Simon as a Hyacinth Bucket-type figure, spying on Richard as he sneaks over the garden fence to eat free hotdogs with Onslow. It’s an interesting setup, but WOOD more than stands tall in the eclectic neighbourhood.
There’s a choice of five, seven or ten-course taster menus, each kept completely secret on the night. All you have to do is hand over any dietary requirements and let the games begin. Such is the confidence of Simon and his team, this is the only taster menu option and you have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Every dish passionately introduced by the waiter
We chose the five-course taster menu; one diner with anything goes and the other without dairy, pork or wheat. No cream, no bread, no pig? No problem, it seems; the kitchen here is a clever and accommodating one.
Both menus were exceptionally well-presented, with every dish passionately introduced by the waiter. The enforced creativity in the dietary menu was impressive and the standard menu kept us guessing, with incredibly presented, perfectly balanced courses.
Each menu started with a serving of warm, freshly-baked bread, with a variety of incoming snacks to get things moving. The stand out plate here was the charcoal cracker parcel, which exploded in the mouth and scattered a delicately fishy eel roe everywhere. Now I’m awake, acclimatised and ready for more.
Incredibly presented, perfectly balanced courses
The first course was a bright green veg pot, with pea puree mousse, raw asparagus, parmesan, cream and a panko dressing. It was so fresh and cool on the tongue, with the richness of the chilled pea giving off dessert vibes. This was a welcome and light start to what was to become a generous and meaty marathon.
A little further along came the highlight of the evening, Simon’s deconstructed take on a shepherd’s pie. In a rather large bowl, this stunner was reconstructed beautifully with layers of beef short-rib, treacle, Seven Bro7hers stout, truffle mash and fried potato skin. The mash was so light it needed tying down and there was truffle everywhere. The beef was glorious. Unsurprisingly rich, but impossibly soft; it was a joy to pull apart and I was gutted when this one was over.
The mash was so light it needed tying down
Up next came the crispy-skinned stone bass accompanied by an even crispier chicken wing, some potters malt and salty fingers, all under a light, creamy truffle foam. The waiters are so attentive and their presence is always felt, but at no point did they feel the need to ask if everything was ok with the food. It’s almost as if our body language answers that.
Course four was an assiette of lamb, with three separate cuts. The gold medal went to the chop, which paired with a token of Bosworth Ash goat’s cheese and some creamy pureed potato. Very good, very well presented. It takes all my strength not to keep turning to the open kitchen and shouting compliments. No, no, that would kill the slick and relaxing atmosphere here at WOOD.
Before the final course, a tiny little plate arrived, with a small French cake medallion on it. It was a mini sandwich filled with chestnut cream placed on a nob of rhubarb puree. Nothing too paralysing here and a welcome palate cleanser after some mind-boggling red meat and emotionally draining truffle-led courses.
It takes all my strength not to keep turning to the open kitchen and shouting compliments
The final course was Simon’s famous Citrus Tutti-Frutti; a dish that featured in the MasterChef final. This is Simon’s fine-dining take on a tutti-frutti, with added lemon. It looks incredible; it should be in the Tate, not my belly. There are spiky flakes of biscuit sticking out of a set, creamy lemon posset, with charred grapefruit bringing a bit of vibrancy to the piece. If I’m pushed for a description, I’d say it looks like a spray-tanned stegosaurus emerging from a bath of milk.
But it tastes amazing and I can see why it turned Gregg Wallace into a sweating wreck. Again, it cleanses the palate, but it’s so light and there’s acidity, creaminess and a nice bit of crunch. It’s a perfectly sized portion too, especially after such a generous menu. An award-winning dish to finish the evening; how great.
Simon’s famous Citrus Tutti-Frutti should be in the Tate, not my belly
WOOD Manchester has an awful lot going for it and it’s evident that Simon’s work ethic cascades down into everyone associated with the restaurant. Further praise has to go to the concierge and waiting staff, who live and breathe the brand and know the incredible menu inside out. The wine menu is accessible and the five-course taster is good value. If you appreciate service, this is the place. If you like beautifully-presented, but understandable food, this is the place. If you want a chicken wing for 10p, Bunny Jacksons is right next door.