Does This MasterChef Winner Live Up To The Hype?

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Published . By Stephen Connolly.

The gloves are out and party season is upon us… that means it’s time to feast and get into the seasonal spirit. With it being nearly Christmas (we’re only two weeks away, people, don’t @ me), I made a visit to MasterChef winner Simon Wood’s flagship Manchester restaurant, WOOD, for an evening of culinary surprises and festive headwear.

Nestled in the space between Oxford Road station and Deansgate, WOOD lies in a slightly jumbled mix of estate agents, bars and restaurants. It’s got heaps of potential, though, and if you’re out for the evening it can be as a good start (or end) point as you can head up Deansgate towards Cloud 23 for skybar glam or keep it indie cool at YES.

WOOD Manchester Restaurant Review

Glossy touches meet leather and wood... it's all in the name.

The restaurant is big; with the main dining room and bar as you walk in, followed by a private dining room upstairs. There’s a contemporary, unfussy feel, with sleek surfaces in creams and browns. What gives it some character are the recurring woody hints that pay homage to the chef’s name. Also, on this visit at least, there’s plenty of Christmas cheer with sparkling lights that make this upper-mid-range dining destination a relaxed and unpretentious one.

Skipping the a la carte options, we opt for the five-course tasting menu (£49 per person) and go for tall, frosty mojitos (£8.50) that arrive with welcome speed. It’s a fresh and easy way to start a rich menu, but elsewhere on the drinks menu, there’s also an impressive wine selection and signature cocktails like the Shot in the Dark (£10) that combines local Didsbury gin with Limoncello and grapefruit.

WOOD Manchester Restaurant Review

Meaty mounds don't last long on our plates.

The tasting menus aren’t published so you’re asked to put your trust in the chefs. We get off to a good start with hors d’oeuvres of black cracker parcels containing a delicate eel mousse that moves from smoky start to a smooth, dairy finish. There’s also a delicious bite-sized cheese pie with a pastry crust as delicate as parchment.

Soon after, we get a substantial tangle of treacly beef short rib. The meat is tender and tasty but it’s the silky potato espuma - with its crunchy, salty nuggets of crisp potato skin - that steals the show. It’s followed by another highlight; a muscular, pan-fried stone bass with sea greens, malt foam and a heady chicken skin that gives the dish a deep umami taste.

WOOD Manchester Restaurant Review

From starters to desserts, WOOD doesn't hold back.

The assiette of lamb is a feast for carnivores… the blushing cutlet is iron-rich, sitting next to tender sweetbreads and a rich jus laden with morsels of kidney. There’s a little kale, and we’re told there’s some potatoes too, but this isn’t one where you need to worry about breaking Atkins as it’s a heavily meaty affair. To finish, it’s Simon’s MasterChef-winning pudding; an impressive lemon posset tutti frutti that’s as citrusy as a Greek orchard and as creamy as a Jersey dairy. What a Christmas cracker.

The DesignMyNight Digest

Simon Wood could have parlayed his fame and cooking skills in any direction, but he’s chosen unconventionally informal fine dining for WOOD, and it’s working. A lively atmosphere; good food; friendly service; a wide-ranging set of boozy choices; a location with plenty of options to follow on... there’s a whole lot to recommend about WOOD.