There isn’t a week that passes in Manchester where another food establishment doesn’t pop up somewhere it seems, but Wilderness in the Northern Quarter caught our attention immediately with it’s different approach to dining.
Wilderness captures the quirky bar vibe that so many other NQ bars go for, giving it a casual feel when you walk in. As you enter it’s not the type of place you’d immediately envision as a restaurant, but it proves to be full of surprises. There is a definite juxtaposition between the decor aesthetic and the food and drink on offer. A laid back approach to aesthetic meets a contrary, high standard of food that captures an audience that is very relevant to it’s area. Today’s twenty and thirty-something diners look for decent food, but they are deterred by the intimation of middle class establishments, making way for restaurants like Wilderness to meet market demand and deliver something that hits the sweet spot.
Into the Wilderness
Set across three floors, Wilderness has plenty of room for drinking and dining. The top floor features unisex toilets that are shared between all floors and further seating for guests is also available across the top two floors. Throughout the decor takes a haphazard approach, scattering trinkets to achieve an lived in feel. One the ground floor the walls are covered in posters, the seats are adorned in patchwork cushion covers and the lights covered with woven lampshades. A distinct personal taste is displayed through the interior choices, which works to give the venue it’s own charm and character.
Despite the casual appearance, Wilderness still operates like any good restaurant and provides table service. The host carefully explained the menus for both food and dink to us, with the wine list in particular requiring some detailed explanation. The owner is a connoisseur of wine and has split the dedicated menu into three sections, basically separating the wines into categories of basic to fully authentic wines. He warned any wines from the third section would ‘taste like vinegar’ to the untrained wine drinker so the first section proved to be the best to choose from for a casual glass of red. There are also cocktails, beers and spirits available and Wilderness specifically squeeze fresh juices and carbonate their own cocktail kegs.
Small plates for big appetites
The food is a mix and match approach, you can choose as many small plates as suits and combine a mixture of meat mains and sides. The small plates start at £5 and go up to £19, desserts are both £6. It is recommended that you choose 2-3 plates each, but you can share between a group and dip into each others choices if you want to try a bit of everything.
The BBQ lamb skewers are a good meat option to start with, they feature a miso glaze and are cooked in yeast flakes. Tender and delicate, the well-done lamb easily falls apart and is juicy and flavoursome, with the flakes adding a contrasting texture that works well alongside it. The woodland mushroom, Spätzle, Jerusalem artichoke and birch sap is an excellent accompanying side to the lamb and comes in a generous portion of mixed mushroom types that could easily be shared.
One of the most interesting dishes is the roast cauliflower, served with pumpkin seed butter and puffed buckwheat. The owner informs that none of the cauliflower goes to waste in the making of this dish, even the stem and leaves are mashed up to provide a puree to go with the rest of the dish. This commitment to saving on food waste and coming up with creative ways to use every bit of your ingredients is impressive and adds merit to the owner for striving to do better and be sustainable.
The most expensive plate on the menu is the aged duck, which is cooked in pine and served with a lavender honey sauce. Pricey but worth it, the duck is served pink with soft charred fat on top. This plate has a sweet and sticky glazed texture, from the lavender honey, that provides a nice outer to invite to the supple meat inside. This goes well with the fermented potatoes, to go for a twist on a traditionalist meal. The potatoes have a tough outer exterior, seasoned in salt and pepper, with a fluffy inside. The mint peas and ricotta also matched this combination, offering a mushy texture that is easy to digest and a distinct taste that may not be for everyone but Wilderness sets out to differentiate from the masses so this suits fine.
Small plates for big appetites
Both of the two desserts were trialled for this review, those being the treacle tart and the grilled peach. The tart comes served with creme fraiche sorbet, in a minimalist manner and no fuss. Gorgeously flavoured, this dish impressed and the cream made a nice accompaniment to balance out tastes and textures. Likewise, the grilled peach went down well, coming with Skyr yoghurt, almond and lovage granita alongside. Expectedly, the peach was juicy and fresh and the lovage leaf ice-cream made a particularly lovely addition.
Overall, Wilderness is focused in it’s appeal to a specific market, the owners know exactly who they are catering for and deliver a menu of food and drinks that suit this demographic perfectly. It may not be for everyone, but we would certainly recommend stepping outside of your comfort zone and dropping in sometime to broaden your horizons. It is also worth noting that the owner is very involved in the whole experience and shows clear knowledge and pride in his product which is heartening to see.