Those national critics complaining about Manchester not having many good restaurants should try Stockport. There are a number of pleasant places to go but very few that are really good, somewhere you can feel you have pushed the boat out and had an exceptional meal. So having eaten so well at the Red Lion a few weeks before, we made a reservation to try Mr Pilling’s other establishment in Heaton Moor, Damson, on November 5th. All the auspices were good, Number One restaurant in Stockport according to Tripadvisor with many very good reviews (and a few comic ones proving you can’t please all of the people all of the time – “I asked for a rack of lamb and they brought me…….some chops joined together!”)
One of the most impressive features of the Red Lion had been the quality of the staff. It was the same standard at Damson, the level of their training evident from the moment we
stepped through the door (in sharp contrast to our pre-dinner drink at Kro Bar further down the road where the girl behind the bar asked if I wanted a glass when I ordered an
artisan brewed trappist beer) The staff were attentive and friendly and at no point did we feel we were waiting for anything.
The ambience of the restaurant is a delicate balance between somewhere you feel relaxed and yet still enjoying an occasion. We sat near the bar, possibly not the most favoured table in the house, but of no real import and it in no way spoilt our enjoyment of the evening. Most tables were set without cloths and had stylish devoré velvet bucket chairs around them. My view was virtually exactly from the interior photo below (shamelessly borrowed from another review site as I am, probably correctly, banned from taking photos in restaurants now)
Menu’s were quickly brought and our drinks orders taken. The a la carte menu is relatively short with 5 or 6 dishes for each course. This seems the right amount for a restaurant with this number of covers if the kitchen are to do the food justice. The whole menu spoke of autumn with seasonal ingredients such as plums, ginger, chutney, mushrooms, cinnamon, nuts, winter vegetables, creamy risottos, roast meats and game featuring in many of the dishes on offer.
Along with the wine and the water jug, a slate was placed on the table with two small loaves of bread, one brown, one sourdough with cubes of seasoned butter. The pleasures of a menu where you are spoilt for choice, the same sensation as the Swan at Kettleshulme, where you feel you could eat almost anything on the menu. OH chose a seafood risotto with cherry tomatoes and a garnish of deep fried squid on top, followed by a sliced duck breast served with a fondant potato, shredded savoy cabbage with bacon and the whole dish matched with a blackberry sauce.
I went for an open tart of warm beetroot, goats cheese curd, candied walnuts and a small salad of leaves and herbs, then asked for the 28 day aged pave rump steak, dauphinoise
potato, portobello mushrooms, spinach and garlic, roasted shallot and a red wine sauce. All the dishes were of the highest quality, superbly cooked with deep flavours and great
ingredients. The courses were served in good order without unnecessary waiting or feeling rushed.
The wine list at Damson is comprehensive with over one hundred bottles. They range from £13.95 to some rather more expensive ones for the real enthusiast. There is however a
good range of choice at £20 and below. The wine selections are all evidently made from independent suppliers with something for everyone. What was also impressive were the
number of wines available by the glass allowing an opportunity to select wines more appropriate for the range of food two people might eat. Though we did not regret our single selection of the Australian Soldiers Block shiraz which comfortably matched three of our four courses of mains and starters.
We had decided in advance to eat well tonight so selected a single dessert and the cheese plate. The dessert OH chose was a real Bonfire Night special – ginger cake, served with pears poached in red wine, roasted plum and a cinnamon ice cream. Outstandingly good. This was followed by our choice of seven cheeses , served from the cheese trolley brought to the table. We selected a Comte, Tor Pyramid goats cheese, Martha’s creamy Lancashire, Elmhirst, the bright orange French Mimolette, another goats cheese, Katherine, from Somerset and Helers Blue fromCheshire. All from a range selected especially by Peter Paprill, the cheese detective. They came with a seasonal chutney in a preserve jar, walnut and raisin bread, celery and grapes. These cheeses were all artisan cheeses that would retail in a top class deli at a minimum of £20 a kilo so this was an excellent way to try them.
Although we ordered only one glass of port to accompany the cheese, it was served in two glasses allowing both of us to enjoy it. For one of us, the Wiese & Krohn Colheita of 1978 vintage was a marvellous mature, honeyed glass of tawny magnificence, made in the year we were married. For another it was reminiscent of a surreptitious slug of Paulden’s
kosher wine taken from a Cheetham Hill sideboard before a night’s dancing at Rails on High Street in the late Sixties. They do say these old wines are complex though, don’t they?
Finally we finished the meal with coffee and tea, supplemented by an entertaining conversation with Mr Pilling himself who impressed with his ability to simultaneously supervise his two restaurants, 5 miles apart, with an almost meerkat-like perspicacity. We left, making our way back to Stockport and ultimately Mellor by a variety of modes of transport plotting our certain next visit to Damson and singing it’s praises to anyone who might listen. Like the Red Lion, if you are looking for a cheap night, Damson may not deliver. If you want an exceptional dinner, full of flavour, cooked to perfection from quality seasonal and often local produce served to you in a stylish and comfortable place by well trained, knowledgeable and attentive staff then you will recognise Damson as somewhere that offers value for your money.