The debut restaurant from the 2015 MasterChef winner offers classic, modern British cuisine with unexpected twists. Katherine Alano reports
Wood Manchester is the debut solo restaurant from Simon Wood, the 2015 winner of BBC's MasterChef.
Located in First Street, the city's newest dining, drinking and entertainment destination, the restaurant has been impressing both local and national critics, including The Guardian's Grace Dent, who wrote in her review in February: "There's a lot to love at Wood, and I'll definitely go back."
Wood, a former data manager, found his passion for cooking when, aged eight years old, he won a competition to be anything for a day and chose to be a chef. However, due to family commitments, Wood was unable to initially pursue a career in the kitchen.
"I have always cooked and always wanted to be a professional chef, says Wood. "I pursued it as a hobby, I guess, but in my head I was always trying to cook at a professional level because it was my passion."
Since coming to widespread attention on national television, Wood has honed his skills by working in London for MasterChef: The Professionals judge Marcus Wareing and Theo Randall at the InterContinental Park Lane, as well as at Simon Rimmer's vegetarian restaurant, Greens, in Didsbury, Greater Manchester.
Following that, he took on a role at his local football club, Oldham Athletic, as executive chef of the hospitality offering. Wood then opened a pop-up outlet called the Board Room at the club before an opportunity arose to open his own restaurant.
Guests can't fail to be impressed by the room when arriving at Wood Manchester. Diners are welcomed by a large, glass-fronted 80-cover space with an open kitchen, dark wooden tables and banquette seating for larger parties, as well as a chef's table, seating six. Stairs lead to a private dining area on the mezzanine level that seats an additional 20 covers.
Inspired by a love of good ingredients, Wood serves "familiar flavours combined with playful authenticity". He adds: "We take ingredients you are used to and treat them classically, but also in a way you've never had them before."
Wood offers three menus: pre-theatre (two courses, £22.50, three courses, £27.50), à la carte and tasting (five courses, £49, seven courses, £69).
One of Wood's more popular dishes is the wild mushroom raviolo, a dish that he has evolved since he presented it on MasterChef: "We make a wild mushroom duxelle with sage, rosemary, thyme and fresh chestnut, which is cooked in a beurre noisette and then reduced in mushroom stock. Mascarpone is added before the mixture is piped into the pasta parcels, which are cooked and served with a sage beurre blanc, crispy sage and pangrattato."
er starters include short-rib tortellini, braised in stout from local brewery Seven Bro7hers and served with burnt onion purée, horseradish and Madeira chive sauce with wild mushrooms, tarragon, baby beets and a beetroot powder; 82°C belly pork with cider, apple, sage and onion; and wood pigeon with fig, endive and pancetta.
For mains, the à la carte offers Highland venison, blackberry, parsnip, haggis and vanilla; and halibut, borlotti, clam, mussel and lardo.
Wood offers playful takes on classic desserts, such as his apple crumble and custard. Rather than the traditional version, the guest is presented with a sphere of chocolate accompanied by a light, airy apple custard, along with winter candy flavoured with clove, all sitting on a bed of cinnamon crumble and toffee.
Another notable dessert is the citrus tutti-frutti, an incarnation of another of Wood's MasterChef dishes that was inspired by his nan, a big fan of tutti-frutti ice-cream.
"We opened 17 months ago and we're now starting to find a rhythm," says Wood. "After 12 months, we were awarded two rosettes from the AA Guide and also received a Michelin recommendation. It's a great start, and we are going in the right direction, so we can only build on that."
Not content to rest on his laurels, Wood has recently opened what he calls an "artisan eatery" called Woodkraft in Cheltenham, and will also be launching Wood Chester next year as part of InterContinental Hotels Group's Hotel Indigo. Wood will take on responsibility for the hotel's entire F&B offering, including room service and breakfast.
From the à la carte
Starters • Mackerel, beetroot, goats' curd, orange and watercress £9.50
• Orkney scallops, chicken wing, Potters Malt and "salty fingers" £16
• Cheshire short rib, Seven Bro7hers stout and truffle £11.50
• Goosnargh duck, pak choi, plum, cashew and sesame £26
• Celeriac, artichoke, black truffle, pear and chestnut £18
• Tomahawk to share, peppercorn sauce, duo of sides £80
• Black cherry, pistachio and tonka bean £8
• Milk & cookies £7.50
• Chocolate with espresso and salted caramel £10
Jack Rosenthal Street, First Street, Manchester M15 4RA
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