As of February 2023, Wolf has closed. I’ve left the review up for posterity.
Although a lot of people complain about the proliferation of coffee shops in the centre of town, for me the biggest growth has been in places to lunch. In the old days your choice was between Picnic, Pret and Workhouse but now there are a plethora of options, from Shed to My Kitchen, from Artigiano to Manhattan Coffee Club, with new ones seemingly opening every month.
So far so coffee, but two of the most recent arrivals, Itsu and Wolf, are more centred around food and have sprung up near John Lewis (the closest thing Reading has to a cathedral), changing the balance of town slightly and drawing footfall slightly away from the Oracle. Both have been on my list for a while, but Wolf gets the nod this week because it’s slightly better established, and I wanted to give Itsu a little longer to settle in. Besides, Itsu is a well-known chain (admittedly in London), whereas Wolf is a much smaller affair, with two branches in Reading and – rather randomly – another couple in Chiswick and Leeds.
I was a bit sniffy about the prospect of “Italian Street Food”, which is apparently what Wolf offers, mainly because I wasn’t convinced it existed. But in fairness, I’ve never been to Italy so I did a bit of research and it seems that there is indeed such a thing – paper cones full of fried seafood, meat on skewers, stuffed fried olives, arancini, delicious fatty porchetta packed into bread. A quick Google and I’d gone from zero to ravenous in about two minutes.
So far so good, but there’s a catch: standing outside Wolf, I had a quick look at their menu and it bore no relation to anything I’d seen, to the extent that I’m not sure whoever designed the menu had ever been to Italy either. Going inside, the concept was explained to me by one of the people behind the counter: first you decide whether you want bread, piada (a wrap not unlike a tortilla), pasta or salad. Then you pick some protein or vegetables to put in it. Then you pick a sauce, and finally you select a few toppings, from salad, olives, cheese and various other antipastoid options.
I’m going to run out of positive things to say very quickly in this review, I’m afraid (right after I point out that the staff were very friendly, I suspect) and this concept felt very much like it had been appropriated from elsewhere. You pick your options as you move down the counter, being served by a different person at each stage, in an assembly line which feels very familiar to anyone who’s ever been to Mission Burrito. You choose what to go in what is fundamentally a sandwich, just as you would at Pierre’s or Shed. Then they wrap it up in foil and put it in a bag for you, which is reminiscent of Five Guys. The feeling of disappointment and being underwhelmed, though, might be unique to Wolf.
So my sandwich was lemon and garlic chicken, in a big cheese-topped bap which was described on the menu as focaccia but was nothing of the kind. Also inside were an inoffensive tomato sauce, some sundried tomatoes, some artichoke hearts and some rocket. The bap was too big and floppy to eat tidily, but there wasn’t quite enough chicken to fill it. Everything tasted pleasant enough but impossible to get excited about. I half expected the chicken to be hot, but it wasn’t – the only warmth came from the split second the bap had spent on a hot plate, not enough time to give it any toasted texture or any real interest. All that for a fiver, and the only concession to street food was that they didn’t bother to give you a plate.
In the interests of trying all aspects of the menu I also ordered one of the eleven inch stone-baked pizzas. I was expecting (perhaps a little too optimistically) a thin, hand stretched pizza dough with a sprinkling of fresh-looking toppings – in this case sun dried tomato, red onion, olives and feta. What I got was a thick based pizza (perhaps not quite as pillowy as the sort that gets delivered by moped) with mostly mozzarella on it. Lots and lots of mozzarella. There was enough tomato sauce to identify it, a few flecks of feta cheese and rather more black olives (that looked like rubber washers from a tin) than I was expecting. If I’d been ravenously hungry or, perhaps, drunk, this might have been right up my alley. Instead it felt like way too many calories for not enough flavour. Except salt. All that cheese made it extremely salty. I left half of it and I wish I had left more. Again, no plate.
I haven’t talked about the room, something I normally do earlier on in the review. That might be because it’s not very nice. It’s another long, thin space – barely wider than a corridor – with tables along one side, big mirrors on the opposite wall and no natural light. The tables outside (yes, with yet more Tolix chairs) are nicer, but even in an Eames lounger this food would taste pretty ordinary. One sandwich, one pizza and two cans of San Pellegrino fizzy drinks – with plastic cups, no glasses either – came to just under fourteen pounds.
I’m sorry that I can’t be more positive about Wolf, but the best I can say is that the food isn’t unpleasant. Normally the lack of authenticity wouldn’t bother me, but it does here because it feels like Wolf is a Frankenstein’s monster, an attempt to patch together a bunch of food trends to try and make money out of diners. There are better pizzas all across Reading (although they do cost more than six pounds fifty) and better – and cheaper – sandwiches anywhere you care to name.
Maybe you’re paying for the choice, but I found standing at the counter that I didn’t want all that choice. I wanted a small range of good, classic flavour combinations rather than the gastronomic equivalent of the numbers round in Countdown. I used to love eating at Fasta Pasta in Oxford’s Covered Market, where you could get big, fluffy ciabatta studded with olives or sundried tomatoes, filled with fresh discs of mozzarella, salty, intense pesto and top notch Parma ham which had been sliced there and then in front of your very eyes. Authentic, classic, delicious: compared to that, Wolf is about as Italian as Captain Bertorelli eating a Cornetto on Clacton Pier. It’s not street food, just pedestrian.
Wolf – 5.6
94 Broad Street, RG1 2AP
11 thoughts on “Wolf”
Yup. I agree. I didn’t get as far as eating as it just looked too (a) confusing and (b) unappealing. Wolf’s coffee was good though, I can recommend that.
It does feel like a very confused pick and mix, I agree.
Thanks for taking one for the team 🙂
Thanks – I think!
I walked in there and came to the same conclusion that you have, without purchasing a thing. Thank you for the review.
Ah, my experience was the same but different, in that I liked it! It was less stressful than Subway (admittedly a low bar) but for a cheap lunchtime snack for me, him and the kid it was a much better option than a more pricey sit-down meal. I had the pasta and the sauce was delicious, the kid had the wrap and loved it, and we sat outside. Lunch for three was £17, the food was perfectly nice, and I’d never go there for a pizza.
I just think that even by those standards you would be better off going to Picnic, Shed, My Kitchen… most independent places, really.
Haha that cheese topped ‘focaccia’ looks suspectedly like the pack of cheese topped baps I buy in Tesco. Indeed, nothing exciting.
Yes, whatever it looked like it certainly didn’t look – or taste – like focaccia.
It’s definitely one of the more original & tasty lunches I’ve had – basically a spicy meatball & spaghetti dish, in an italian wrap. Sounds weird, tastes lovely. It’s definitely not street food like you would find in italy, but I thought it was tasty nonetheless.
I basically entirely agree with you. Wolf is a mismarketed/falsley advertised disappointment.
The food is satisfactory – inoffensive, some flavour, unlikely to make you ill. Today I had one of their “piada” wraps: that is, a tortilla with filling, like a burrito but with less fillings that Mission Burrito and less well wrapped too, with the foil wrapped in such a way that requires you to unwrap the entire thing before you can eat it (unlike Mission Burrito, the other place where I’ve had similar food, where you can unpeel the foil and eat without making a mess). Last time I had pasta, which I remember as bland and somewhat rubbery. Although today my mother said hers was nice.
The staff are friendly. The space is thin and doesn’t seat that many, but it doesn’t feel overcrowded. The coffee is quite nice.
They claim their vegetables are locally sourced and seasonal. They offered mushrooms, bell peppers, and tomato/tomato salsa today. While I’ll agree that the mushrooms are in season right now, bell peppers are not local (do they even grow in Britain outside of greenhouses?), and the tomatoes are either not in season or not local.
It is not Italian street food, or if it is I feel sorry for the Italians.
If they didn’t call themselves “street food” and perhaps advertised themselves as an upmarket Subway with slightly greater choice and did something other than serve pasta and use Italian words as their claim to be Italian, then I would have been less disappointed as my expectations would have been lower.