Jonathan Schofield feels the flavours are strong in this one

SO, a full a la carte lunch with Gordo in Wood, the eponymous restaurant of Simon Wood - Masterchef winner and affable chap from Oldham. It was a fine lunch indeed with flair, skill, good service and warmth. Mike Jennings was leading the kitchen on this occasion, a gifted chef in his own right.

On previous visits the relatively new restaurant had felt physically too cold, that’s been corrected. They still need to heat up the décor. The overall effect is like sitting in a copse of silver birch trees - which given the name of the chef, is clearly intended. I find the muted natural tones of the main dining room underwhelming even if they do set off the flowers on the tables. The arrival of drapes down the windows will improve matters, but it seems they will be pale silver rather a vivid colour. Sometimes things can be too…tasteful. 

Colour was provided by the starter of mackerel with goats curd and beetroot (£9.50). Combining goats cheese with an oily fish shouldn’t work; two powerful and utterly contrasting flavours together should be a big no-no. But it works a treat. It is subtlety unsubtle and all the better for it.

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The décor needs a little heating up
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Colour provided by a starter of mackerel with goats curd and beetroot (£9.50)

Equally good was wild mushroom ravioli (£8.50) which resembles Devil’s Tower in Wyoming as featured in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Lunch with Gordo can be like having lunch with an alien and the publisher of Manchester Confidential was seeing stars over this dish. In a good way. He thought it a clear nine out of ten with earthy textures, cooking skill, clarity of thought and the way each ingredient, especially the chestnuts, came through.

Both the starters were largish. My mackerel, accompanied by a crisp and clean Aussie Riesling, would do as a fine lunch all on its own. Ok, probably twice the price of a drink and a panini in a coffee shop, but a cracking way to treat a lunch break. With water rather than wine, it’d be a health booster too.

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Wild mushroom ravioli (£8.50) resembled Devil’s Tower in Wyoming
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Venison, parsnip, blackberry and ginger (£24) - a good-looking punch of flavour

Mains of venison (£24) and chicken (£18) were less succinct than the starters, as is often the way, but still packed a good-looking punch of flavour. The chicken was given grit by the chorizo and lift through the olive and pimiento, but the saffron potatoes perhaps weren’t saffron-y enough. The venison was given heft and weight by parsnip sweetness and a touch of blackberry.

Sides were also generous in scale with the clear winner being heritage carrots (£4.50) which glistened with glaze and were simply delicious. There was such an amount of leftovers, I took them home and fried them up with chicken strips to give the family a cracking bonus dinner. 

A dessert dish entitled ‘citrus tutti-frutti’ (£7) was more like a posset and was beautifully presented. The gentle citrus flavour and the delightful crown of fruits made this one of the best puds I’ve had all year. In comparison the cheeseboard was a little clumsy with a couple of cheeses too hard. They could have done with spending a while longer getting up to room temperature. That and the tacky butter that came with the otherwise excellent warm, doughy bread were the only let downs. 

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Chicken, chorizo, black olive, saffron, pimiento (£18)
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Citrus tutti-frutti (£7): more like a posset and beautifully presented

There are several other dining options aside from the a la carte, such as the theatre menu with two courses for £20 and three for £25. This is available at lunchtime too and, given the quality of the cooking, a bit of a steal. There are also ‘tasting menus’ which, sans wine, begin at £45 for five courses.

I really like Wood. The exterior is dour by nature, given it’s a black glass wrap under the multi-storey car park of the city centre’s First Street development. As noted, the interior could do with more colour than simply flowers. Yet everybody in Manchester who appreciates good food must go. The menu gives variety, the food looks lovely, there’s interest in every dish and flavours are strong. The service here is excellent too. Anyway, I’ll be back for that mackerel within the week.

Wood, Jack Rosenthal Street, M15 4RA. 0161 236 5211

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The scores:

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.

  • Food 8/10

    Bread 7, ravioli 9, mackerel 9, chicken 8, venison 7.5, sides 8, cheese 6 (more care needed), tutti frutti 8

  • Ambience 3/5

    The room needs more warmth

  • Service 4/5

    Discreet and knowledgeable