Saturday, 15 August 2015
Restaurant Review: The Wood Oven, Wylam
My friends James and Rosie live out in the relative outback that is Ovingham these days. This is fine by me, as a trip out there is rather more diverting than the short hike across Newcastle's West End which used to seperate our dwellings. During the meal we recently shared at The Wood Oven in Wylam, and the day that preceded it, I could see the attraction of the move they've made.
James and I had spent the afternoon twatting some balls around the driving range at the ridiculously manicured Close House. That place is quite something, a zenith level demonstration of man's ability to shape nature to his will in the name of leisure. It looks like the sort of golfing fantasy that you assume only happens in America or somewhere. We're attempting to get into the golf; for myself it may be an attempt to recapture something of lost youth - I gave up when about 16 - and James, I think, as an excuse to openly parade some of the wilder examples among his polo shirt collection. Whatever the motivating factor, let me tell you this: golf is bloody hard. It's a cruel mistress, a stern aunt and an unforgiving bastard of a form master all rolled into a git of a sport. And yet; that feeling when you cleanly smack the thing for miles is really quite moreish.
We decamped from the links to The White Swan in Ovingham, the better to drink pints of standard ale while lobbing some premium darts - I know, how sporty am I these days! - and discussing how shit politics is at the minute. By the time we made it to The Wood Oven we were bang slap in the middle of what by any metric would have to go down as a pretty great day.
The meal that followed was just about as enjoyable. James and Rosie are something like regulars here, this being my first time. Outside is just about as unprepossessing a restaurant entrance as you could wish to see, the only clue to the fact that food is available being a plastic banner. You part a metal butchers curtain and emerge in a bright and cheery room, wooden tables placed informally close and, promisingly, the titular beast of an oven off to your left.
The menu reads very nicely. Meat or veggie antipasto sharing boards share the page with a few seasonal starters. The pizzas all sound great, with a clear focus on good ingredients; fior de latte, pecorino, preserved lemons and n'duja are all present among the available red and white pies.
Rosie and I shared the meat antipasto for two. Both ham hock and chicken pressings are moist and full of flavour, while the n'duja scotch eggs, a new rendition to my experience, are superb. Crisp crumb, rich and spicy farce, and an on-the-money yolk. Three cheers. Tang and thwack are provided by some good pickles and a sturdy piccalilli.
James, a veggie, scores the beetroot, goats cheese and walnut mille-feuille. This triptych of tastes may be a cliché, but only because they go so bloody well together, as indeed they did here. The wafer was almost like a mini poppadom, possibly made from chickpea flour. The beets were packed with earthy depth, the goats curd all clean freshness.
Pizzas arrived looking very much the part. Mine was of the n'duja, fior de latte and roast red onion persuasion. If you haven't tried n'duja you really need to. From Calabria, it's a sort of extra-spicey spreadable sausage. It does wonderful things in a hot oven or under a grill, seeping spiced pig fat here and there. No doubt about it, this was a cracking pizza, the slow-risen dough offering a good chew and wearing just about the appropriate amount of char on its underside.
Both the others were similarly premium offerings. A special white pie of salmon, peas and broad beans was a slice of summer.
I was pretty squiffed by this point on some very drinkable house red so I'm struggling to remember the exact toppings on the final pizza. Kale and butternut squash, I think? Looks like that anyway. Whatever, I remember it being bloody nice too. We couldn't hack desserts, so toddled off into the gathering summer gloom.
The residents of Wylam are a bunch of jammy buggers to have such a cracker of a pizzeria in their midst. It seems they know this; there is a nice buzz about the place on the evening we visit, with a good trade in takeaway also being done. Ingredients really are of excellent quality, both those from Italy and closer to hand, some of which come from the GoLocalFood veg co-operative based in Ovington. To my mind, Cal's Own is still the gold standard for pizza round these parts, his dough having the perfect balance between lightness and heft. If I'm to be super picky I'd say The Wood Oven's base, while excellent, requires just a bit more mastication than is completely ideal. These pies are certainly of a comparable standard though, which is praise indeed. What is more, they're excellent value; our meal for three came to £65 with a bottle of wine and a bottle of the excellent Puffing Billy Wylam smoked black bitter.
Dinner at The Wood Oven was the perfect way to see off a cracking day in the sticks, and comes highly recommended.
The Wood Oven
01661 852 552