Room's gothic exterior - photo by mrrobertwade (wadey)

Ben Wood

Entering Room in Manchester, it would seem that it is not inappropriately named, and that the stunningly ornate room, previously of the Manchester Reform Club, is the centrepiece of the whole experience of the restaurant. To a certain extent this is true; at the top of a sweeping staircase an imposing statue of William Gladstone, who originally opened the Club in 1871, guards the entrance to the vast, high-ceilinged dining room and bar, where venetian gothic windows and beautifully masoned fireplaces adorn the walls, contrasting with the giant modern lampshades hanging from the ceiling and the crisp white table cloths in lines across the room. However, the food and drink at Room does a worthy job of living up to such stunning surroundings.

With the restaurant being renowned as an excellent cocktail bar in its own right, we ordered a couple of Room G&Ts to start with, especially considering that on weekdays before 8, they are almost half price. This twist on the traditional gin and tonic was inspired, with muddled sage accentuating the herbaceous nature of the gin, and crushed grapes adding some balance of sweetness to the splash of tonic. As we were dining early evening (before 7, so keep lunch light), we could take advantage of the ‘All inclusive’ set menu; three courses and a glass of very decent house wine being exceptional value at £17.50. Continue reading

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Filed under Ben Wood, British, food, Manchester, restaurant

Prufrock Coffee

Coffee at Prufrock, by William Manley

Ben Wood

Photography by William Manley (

It is really quite easy to get a great coffee around London, and Leather Lane, just north of Chancery Lane and south of Clarkenwell Road, is no exception. The Costas and Starbucks of both these main roads quickly give way to a number of great looking independent coffee shops, one of which is Prufrock Coffee. Advertised outside the shop, amongst the busy street market, by a wooden sign attached to an old fixed-gear bicycle, this is the flagship coffee shop of Gwilym Davies, 2009 World Barista Champion, and clearly therefore, a man who really cares about his coffee. The place itself is minimalist in appearance; the large room is dominated not by the two-sided wooden bar, but by the stripped wooden floor and the whitewashed brick walls. There is even enough space for bikes, as numerous people wheeled them in, placed them against the wall, and sat down with a coffee. The atmosphere is relaxed and slow-paced, a world away from the corporate takeaway cafes down the road. Continue reading

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Filed under Ben Wood, cafe, clarkenwell, coffee, london, William Manley photography


Restaurant review of Polpo in Soho

Ben Wood

Tapas-style eating is incredibly popular at the moment, especially around Soho where some of the coolest restaurants opening in the last few years work with the concept that a lot of small plates to share around is an altogether more casual and sociable way to eat good food.

Polpo is one such place. On arriving, you can choose to shun traditional seating arrangements and instead eat at the bar, while in front of you waiters busy themselves delivering food and wine not only to all the seated diners, but to the standing crowds looking on jealously while waiting for their tables. Polpo doesn’t do reservations in the evening. That’s just how casual and relaxed and cool they are. With this in mind you should probably go early, very early. But it just doesn’t feel like the sort of place you should go early to. Over the bar hang naked bulbs; huge things that are reminiscent of an industrial past or a New York cellar bar, and which throw out a grungy light that complements the quiet alternative music hanging in the air. The walls are bare brick. The waiters are casually dressed. The clientele is young and loud and friendly. So maybe it is better to go late, or at least later than you perhaps should, and wait, taking on board a carafe of red wine and a plate of Moscardini, tiny little soft octopuses in a garlicy, slightly spicy oil. Continue reading

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Filed under Ben Wood, food, Italian, london, restaurant, soho, tapas-style