The latest addition to the NQ is truly something Manchester has never seen before...
A stroll down Thomas Street over the last few days will have uncovered a shiny new addition to its already bustling arsenal of bars and restaurants – Wilderness Bar + Kitchen.
Taking over the old Odd / Folk & Soul site, a site that has suffered in the past from seemingly indecisive occupants or indeed concepts that didn’t really know what they were, what they wanted to be and who they were aiming it to.
So Wilderness have seemingly taken a new, fresh approach to the whole thing – taking a concept, grabbing it by the balls and going the full hog – and I must say – it works very, very well.
The hard work and graft of a group of Manchester’s most well-known and experienced bar and restaurateurs, Wilderness has some pretty big names behind it – notably Dan Morris (ex Cottonopolis and Trof Group), Mat Lake and Bart Murphy (Junkyard Golf & Bunny Jacksons) and Lyndon Higginson (Liars Group, Junkyard Golf & Bunny Jacksons).
What they’ve attempted to pull off is certainly impressive, aiming to create a bar and restaurant which encompasses a dizzying range of concepts and ideas – mostly focused on the kind of venue you’d find in Copenhagen.
The plan is for a space that offers mega high-quality food, but at affordable, sustainable prices in an atmosphere which is relaxed and approachable.
They’ve aimed to create a place where you can eat the best food and drink the best cocktails in Manchester that are seasonal, exceptional quality and ultimately responsible.
As a result, Head Chef James Lord (ex-Manchester House) has cultivated, researched, experimented and developed a long list of local and seasonal produce to create a menu that promotes suppliers and also promotes innovation.
Have they succeeded?
Well, I was lucky enough to go down last night and try the menu in their new ‘Innovation Room’, a private room where we were treated to a dedicated menu served up by the Head Chef himself.
We started the proceedings with a few ‘starters’ from the menu, most noticeably the BBQ Lamb Skewers, Braised Lamb Belly and Pressed Potato. At around the £5 mark for each they’ve certainly attained an impressive price point for the dishes – especially considering the quality on offer here.
Now, I’d heard quite a lot of buzz about the BBQ Lamb Skewers (£5) before arriving, with one friend calling them “The best bits of lamb I’ve ever had in my life” and our photographer claiming them to be a “must have“. So I was suitably excited to try them and boy – they are good!
Glazed in a miso sauced and topped with a sprinkling of lamb fat yeast flakes, I can see these skewers becoming the ‘signature’ dish at Wilderness, especially during this initial opening period. It’s truly a masterful piece of craft and something that everybody invariably talks about and wants to try.
Similarly, I was highly impressed with the perfectly seared and seasoned Braised Lamb Belly (£5), and the equally exceptional Pressed Potato (£5), which comes with Smoked Egg, Brown Crab and is finished with a subtle dill pollen.
Between our starters and mains, we had chance to taste some of Wilderness’ extensive wine list – a list that focusses heavily on natural wines from small independent suppliers and sources.
They want “well-made, natural and biodynamic wines from producers whose wine-making practices are carried out with love and care” and nothing exemplifies this than the Orange Roter Veltliner I was lucky enough to savour.
With only around 600 bottles in existence at the moment anywhere in the world, this wine is truly ‘small-batch’ and was one of the most impressive wines I’ve ever tasted.
You’re welcomed by a true explosion of smells before you’ve even tasted it – a taste that I’d describe as zesty, and almost like smoked whiskey – certainly with earthy, natural tones throughout.
It was perfect alongside the next few dishes I tried.
First up was a dish which had ‘sustainability’ written all over it – a Roasted Cauliflower (£7) topped with pumpkin seed butter and then sprinkled with puffed buckwheat.
It’s true that vegetarian options can sometimes be an afterthought but the same care and attention has gone into this dish than it has the rest – perhaps even more so.
The cauliflower is cooked in a malt extract, then finished up on the BBQ to give it a tangy, but also welcome chargrilled flavour (as well as making it supremely succulent).
The dish is finished with a burnt pumpkin seed butter and puffed buckwheat – and know this; they use every single last bit of the cauliflower to reduce waste – making this dish a truly sustainable and responsible dish all round.
In addition, we savoured the Cured Seabass (£9), a light and super-fresh dish that came adorned with heritage tomatoes, elderflower and some pickled green strawberries which I’d never seen before but certainly want to eat again.
Similarly, the Short Rib (£14) both looked and tasted fantastic; masterfully cooked and served smothered in a Bone Marrow béchamel and topped with IPA pickled onions. Soft, tender and literally melt in the mouth – the ribs were exceptional; my only qualm – I wanted more!
If one dish could exemplify the care and attention that Wilderness are looking to bring to their food (and drink) then the Tamworth Pork with a Sorrel Salsa Verde (£18) is certainly it.
Very simply presented, the pork was exquisite, and a quick Google at the time told me why – Tamworth pork truly is one of the best meats in the world, and Wilderness know it – only lightly adorning it with the lemony Sorrel Salsa Verde – so you still get that acidic ‘kick’ but the meat is still in charge.
Tamworth pork is one of the oldest pig breeds in the world and the closest match today of the old English forest pig. As such you get a much richer depth of flavour – attributed to the fact that this hardy, slow-growing breed excels outdoors in any free-range farm.
It truly was one of the best bits of pork I’ve ever had, and is certainly worth the higher price (when compared to the rest of the menu – it’s still outstanding value for money)!
A final note should go to the Fermented Potatoes (£4) that we had on the side, which are 5 whole days in the making.
Being fermented for that amount of time, the potatoes achieve a super creamy texture, almost like mash, which works exceptionally well alongside the slightly sour fermentation funk. I should also say that these beauties are quite salty too, as a result of the fermentation process, so keep that wine in hand.
We finished off with a lovely Treacle Tart (£6) which came with a crème fraiche sorbet which I just couldn’t get enough of.
It was a night of great wines, masterful food and great company, all while learning a thing or two from Head Chef James about the processes involved in the dishes.
I was (and am) truly astounded that Wilderness have managed to create such high-end, high-quality dishes and kept the price point so low – meaning that this level of quality is actually finally much more accessible to the people of Manchester.
Any self-respecting foodie must surely have Wilderness on their list of ‘must-visits’ because the team here seem to have pulled something off that hasn’t really been done before – high-end but with a relaxed and chilled environment – that won’t break the bank. Welcome to Wilderness.
Wilderness 30-32, Thomas St, Manchester M4 1ER