It takes some considerable chutzpah to put your name above the door of your restaurant. There’s nowhere to hide. But that’s what Simon Wood has done. He was the winner of Masterchef in 2015. We went with a little trepidation – our previous experience of a Masterchef winner’s restaurant was a dismal experience. And that was Professional Masterchef! But there was no need to worry – between us, we were about to eat six plates of faultless food. We also liked pretty much everything about the restaurant – attentive staff, comfy chairs, spacious tables, even good background music. That said, it’s a big space with very high ceilings and, when busy, the noise must really bounce off the walls. But the restaurant was not busy – I think staff outnumbered diners, which must be a disappointment even for a chilly midweek night.
There’s a range of menus – an “early doors” theatre one, a seven course tasting and the main carte, which is what we ordered from. It’s written in what I always think of as the modern “machine gun” style – simply a list of ingredients blasted out, giving no real sense of how this might look and taste when the plate is put in front of you. That said, any starter mentioning pigeon is going to get a try from me. Here, it’s slices of rare breast, paired with fig and endive (both the curly type, which I don’t like and the cigar shaped one) and crisp pancetta. It works so well. A wild mushroom raviolo technically wasn’t – in the sense that a raviolo fully encases the filling with pasta. Here, a single sheet of pasta tops a “stew” of wild mushrooms, sage and chestnut. Finally, a sprinkling of crisped breadcrumbs gives texture contrast. Good flavours.
For one main, very seasonal venison loin was perfectly cooked to medium rare. It came with a parsnip puree and what I think were shards of a parsnip crisp. But what set up the plate was a scattering a pickled blackberries – sharp and sweet at the same time and a bang on accompaniment for Bambi. Across the table, my partner was enjoying what was, in effect, a posh version of cauliflower cheese. Ordinary cauli and romanesco in a Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese sauce (but not as much sauce as you’d make at home – this is a restaurant, doncha know). It’s all fine, even if not an “edge of the seat” sort of dish. The eating might have been improved by the crisp pastry “moneybags” which encased goats cheese. These are not mentioned on the menu description and my partner has an aversion to goats cheese, so they were left (for me to scoff). The dishes, as the menu descriptions, are quite restrained affairs and the server suggested we needed a couple of sides – in this case, a dish of saute potatoes and another of mixed greens. They’d have happily served three, but it does bump up the cost of a plate taking my venison into the high twenties.
We often pass on dessert but decided here to have the full three courser. It was back to the brief, and slightly misleading, menu description. For example “rum & raisin” was actually more a “textures of pineapple” dish with a scattering of raisins and a dollop of a fairly bland ice cream. I’m not sure what I expected from “citrus tutti frutti” – a cheffy version of tutti-frutti ice cream, perhaps. What I didn’t expect was it to be a lemon posset, topped with a couple of bits of candied fruit and a couple of edible flowers (violas, seeing as you ask). Now, I have to say, this was a lovely lemon posset and, like the venison main course, combining sweet and sharp. I’d have been happy to eat it without the adornments.
So, a very successful evening and we will be back. Simon Wood has created a restaurant at a fairly unique level amongst places in the city centre. He’s not competing with the wizardry of Adam Reid at the Midland but it’s much more than the bistro type places such as the always enjoyable Northern Quarter Restaurant.