Simon Wood’s culinary passion began at eight years old, when he won a competition to be anything for a day and chose to be a chef. Over three decades later, he has achieved his dream.
The former MasterChef winner’s bustling First Street restaurant Wood Manchester has had a deservedly successful first year, and news that he is opening two more restaurants across the UK comes as no surprise.
Wood was awarded two AA rosettes for culinary excellence earlier this year and has picked up favourable reviews in national newspapers including the Guardian and the Telegraph, where reviewer Michael Deacon described Simon’s tutti-frutti dessert as “pure swooning delirium. Magnificent.”
The menus offer various dining options, from lunch and early evening set menus (from £22.50 for two courses), to a seven-course tasting menu, via an accomplished a la carte offering.
The tasting menu, which offers a “magical mystery tour” through Simon’s favourite seasonal ingredients, is priced at £65 at dinner, or £45 for five courses during the day, with a matching wine flight available from £25.
The restaurant has recently launched its new seasonal winter menu, so we went to try it out. Bring on the magical mystery tour.
We start with a snack of little golden smoked eel and Comte cheese doughnuts. A perfectly salty, savoury little mouthful, they set the bar high.
Sourdough and pumpernickel bread comes with whipped salted butter, and then comes a taster-sized portion of goats curd blended with fragrant orange gel and earthy beetroot powder, with a peppery watercress finish. It’s the basis of a starter from the a la carte menu, where it’s served with mackerel. It’s beautifully balanced, light and tangy, and paired with a Spanish rose wine, deep in colour with flavours of raspberry and cranberry.
The next dish, which also appears on the a la carte menu as a starter, is simply superb. Fall-apart tender Cheshire short rib has been cooked in treacle and Seven Brothers stout, served with buttery creamed potato, and topped with grated black truffle.
Rich, robust and full of big beefy flavour, it’s this indulgent dish we’re talking about days later. I dream about hibernating and devouring it all winter long. The matched Spanish red is packed with berry flavours, with little hints of spice and black pepper and a touch of cocoa.
It can’t get better than this, we think. And then comes another cracker. King oyster mushrooms are served with an aromatic Thai red curry foam and butternut squash ribbons, paired with a Gewurtztraminer from Chile.
It’s a rich, comforting dish, elegant and warm like being wrapped in a soft cashmere blanket. There’s a hint of sweetness to the wine, fragrant and floral with rose, orange blossom and lychee. The perfect match.
Hand dived Orkney scallops arrive next, plump and juicy and brushed with Potters malt, served with salted fingers from the beach, celeriac purée and intensely savoury crunchy chicken wing pieces. Also available as a starter on the main menu, it’s paired with a Chablis full of citrus and peach flavours.
If that felt like the last days of summer, then the next dish, which is a main course on the a la carte menu, is decidedly more autumnal.
Perfectly pink Goosnargh duck breast comes with plum purée and pak choi cooked on the josper grill for smoky barbecued flavours, scattered with pickled cashew nuts which have been dipped in soy sauce and rolled in sesame seeds. The matched Italian red is all about dark fruit, liquorice, vanilla and coconut.
Fuille de bric is a course in-between mains and dessert. Cute little pastry cones are filled with whipped cheese, beetroot and hazelnut.
Citrus tutti-frutti is arguably Simon’s signature dish – and one of his winning dishes on MasterChef. Clever, then, to transform it into little lollipops. They’re creamy, dreamy and lemony, punctuated with the sharp-sweetness of dehydrated raspberry and raspberry jam. A medium sweet Riesling is the wine match with its complementary tropical flavours.
Tiramisu is the pudding – but a refined, salted caramel version which blends punchy espresso ice cream with coffee crumb, dehydrated raspberries, and hazelnut and raspberry biscotti. Classy and comforting, it’s matched with a Valpolicella from Veneto, a silky, smooth dessert red full of fig and raisin flavours.
It may be all the wines talking, but the new menu is a cracker. Simon and head chef Mike Jennings have gone from strength to strength over the past year, and the flawless service led by the charming general manager James Cunningham makes for a fun, friendly and relaxed experience.
Christmas has come early at Wood.