Recently opened NQ bar and kitchen, Wilderness are not just looking to revolutionise the city's food scene - they have their sights set on the cocktails too.
They’ve hit the Northern Quarter like a freight train over the past few weeks, shaking things up and setting a towering benchmark for other venues in the area (and even throughout the rest of the city) to follow.
They’ve set tongues wagging with their food (and food writers flapping), with a menu that aims to provide seasonal, high-quality food but at affordable prices available to everybody.
The whole idea is that Wilderness is a relaxed and approachable place where you can still experience the pinnacle of food and drink innovation, something which our REVIEW looked to see if they’d pulled off.
As a man with a constant thirst in his throat (much to my detriment in recent weeks), I was offered the chance to head down to Wilderness to check out the booze side of things – to check out their fancy new cocktail menu – APERTURE.
Now I’m not much of a fan of pomp and circumstance so I’ll lay it all out for you now. First of all, the menu looks fantastic, with a two-page spread dedicated to each drink, one telling you what’s in it, the other providing a picture of some ‘wilderness’ that aims to evoke the main ideas behind it.
Wilderness tasked artist Michael J. Thomason with the task of exploring the UK with the concept of wilderness firmly in his brain box. He aimed to produce images that challenge the recently prevalent idea of Wilderness as paradise.
The man behind the menu is Adam Day, Bar Manager at Wilderness and champion of all things seasonal. Since moving to Manchester a few years back he’s won a long list of accolades for his cocktail skills, as well as opening Peggy’s Bar in Salford in 2017.
The concept is based on seasonality and the high-quality of ingredients on offer. As a result, Adam wants to provide a set of staple drinks all-year round but with slight variations in seasonal touches.
To do this they’ve looked at incorporating both traditional and modern techniques and flavours, providing a menu that is fluid, with ingredients that change and evolve every 3 months and as the seasons progress.
So their take on a Gibson will feature different ingredients depending on the month in which you buy it; a jostaberry pickle in the Summer and perhaps figs in the winter. Same, same but different. Geddit?!
So what were they like?! Well… VERY impressive.
I started on the aforementioned Gibson, named CHANGES, which is made using an age-old traditional Scandinavian spirit that has been made since the 15th Century but fell out of favour most recently (except for around Christmas time and the occasional wedding).
It’s teamed up with a Dry Vermouth and a pickled jostaberry – a cross between a blackcurrant and a gooseberry. Pickled in house, CHANGES is the embodiment of exactly what they’re trying to do with this cocktail menu.
Another example of the concept is SCORCHED, a wildly complex but absolutely stunning drink based around Johnnie Walker Black.
Added is a Smoked Juniper spirit made by Empirical Spirits in Copenhagen – a drink made by smoking the berries with their own wood and then placed in sherry casks to add sweetness. Finally, the Wilderness team add Whey and Burnt Agave to the mix to blow you away with what I described in my notes as “fucking fab!”
So where does the whey come from and who is creating the Burnt Agave? Well, like most things at Wilderness they are done in-house, part of the ongoing collaborative efforts between the kitchen and the bar.
The whey is taken from their homemade ricotta, and added to the drink for sourness and to add texture. The burnt agave is created by reducing natural nectar down and caramelising the sugars to the point of burning. This adds a bitter/smokiness to the flavour with an element of sweetness.
The collaborations continue with ESCAPE, a cocktail that utilises a rather unusual botanical whiskey called Ncn’ean that is a lot like gin but certainly not. Same, same but different right?!
Ncn’ean technically isn’t a whiskey or a gin, but that won’t distract the Wilderness team from doing something with it. Down in the innovation room they fat wash it with cacao butter creating a flavour that is both surprisingly creamy and chocolatey.
They then add a grilled peach syrup (made on the BBQ in the kitchen) where caraway seeds and lemon are added. Again this is an immensely complex drink that has so many different elements working at the same time that it’s almost impossible to explain how it tastes.
Finally, I should mention one of the Wilderness mocktails, which are treated with the same level of detail and innovation as their alcoholic cousins. INVADER is described in the menu as ‘Grape, Rhubarb Pickle, Soda’ but as you’re probably coming to realise – it’s so much more than that.
The interesting thing about this drink is they use the grapes in season and the rhubarb out of season, which has been preserved. The pickle rhubarb is once again made in the innovation room, cut into ribbons and then pickled with sugar and vinegar to create an intensely sweet pickled twinge.
I could sit here and go through every single cocktail and the long list of ingredients, techniques, outlandish additions and obscure liqueurs that have been added to each one. But I won’t.
Instead I suggest you just go down to Wilderness yourself, head upstairs to the bar, grab a stool and get chatting to the bartender over a few frosty ones.
There’s a clear love of cocktails here, not just with the person serving you but also behind the scenes, a level of detail that is pretty much unsurpassed elsewhere in the city. Go. Now.
APERTURE at Wilderness Bar + Kitchen
Wilderness Bar & Kitchen, 30-32, Thomas St, Manchester M4 1ER
0161 660 7177