Review: WOOD Manchester
I FEEL I have to start this review with ‘Requiem for the Josper Oven Smoked Gnocchi’. The day we lunched was the first day Simon Wood had ditched his beloved signature dish from the menu. I’d only requested it as a side because it seemed to fit the autumnal theme of the food we’d ordered a la carte – pigeon, venison, duck, even the beef carpaccio, its fennel fronds touched with tar oil. After only two months in existence the cocktail list, too, is getting its own earthier overhaul for the Fall. WOOD= woodland and all its flavours.
“But why knock the gnocchi on the head?” we had to ask Simon, 2015 Masterchef winner, now owner of an ambitious restaurant, aiming to turn the ‘new frontier’ of First Street into a casual fine dining destination. Pre-launch Simon had told us: “My focus is on simple dishes and ingredients that pack a punch. The smoked gnocchi is such a simple dish, but it tastes amazing.”
It was to feature across all the menus. Now Simon has realised it’s a time-consuming dish for the team to make with festive season looming; so learning on the hoof, he’s replaced it with the swifter carbfest of truffle mash. Which we duly ordered, plus the forest floor’s own signature dish – wild mushrooms (£4 apiece).
Both were perfect accompaniments to our mains, as was a bottle of Guido Natalino Barbera d’Asti, a stunning £47 red from Italy’s Piemonte region (found on sommelier Michael Delaney’s Italian guest wine list)
Limpid black cherry and plum savouriness with a dash of black pepper and oak barrel spice worked well with both venison and duck, contrasting dishes, both offering bold but balanced flavours – for the venison (£24) parsnip, blackberry and ginger in harmony.
For 50p less, the duck’s ensemble was plum and hazelnut, Sauternes and Chardonnay.
The prices reflect the ambition of the cooking; the same thought-through precision allowed us to forget both our starters cost £9.50 each. My carpaccio of beef with radish, fennel and the earthiness of black garlic was a gentle, refreshing opener; eclipsed, though by the spectacular combo of gamey pigeon with fig, endive and a balsamic-sharp lardon.
To close, my equally photogenic Citrus Tutti-frutti (£7.50) was a delightfully thick lemon posset with fruit gels, meringues and edible flowers, while across the table a cherry parfait with pistachios and berries (main image) was equally satisfying.
There is nowhere around First Street on this level – with due respect to the excellent Indian Tiffin Room. The area is still a work in progress. WOOD’s immediate neighbours are bars – the brewpub Gasworks and, coming soon, Bunny Jackson’s Juke Joint, replacing Liquor Store, which didn’t quite work out.
I hope WOOD works out. This is an extraordinarily confident and accomplished operation.
WOOD Manchester, Jack Rosenthal Street, First Street, M15 4RA. 0161 236 5211.