Damson, 113 Heaton Moor Road, Stockport

For a city of its size and importance, Manchester is notoriously short of great restaurants. On a recent trip to the city's biennial arts festival, I was looking for somewhere new and interesting to eat. The list my team of researchers drew up – OK, that I drew up after an hour on Google – looked pretty much the same as the last time I'd visited, albeit littered with the corpses of the fallen.

So I consulted a couple of local critics for suggestions. (Being a restaurant critic in Manchester must be a bit like being an opera critic on Canvey Island; you've got all the theoretical knowledge, you just don't get a chance to show it off too often.) Turns out the best restaurants in Manchester aren't actually in Manchester at all. One of them, Ramsons, is in Ramsbottom, ten miles to the north. The other, Damson, is in Heaton Moor, about five miles to the south, which I would have described as a suburb of Manchester, if I didn't fear reprisals from the militant wing of the Stockport Independence Army.

And so it came to pass that I left the city, with its vibrant festival venues crowded with operas and plays and happenings, and found myself on a nondescript suburban arterial road lined with DVD stores and chip shops and a pub offering a credit-crunch lunch deal for £1.50.

Damson's curtained shopfront doesn't stand out in this humdrum setting, although the all-weather sofas of its smoking terrace are a definite cut above. But behind those billowing, musliny curtains lies a discreetly luxe little bistro which instantly enfolds you in an atmosphere of promised pleasure. Plum velvet drapes and devoré velvet bucket chairs whisper opulence and comfort and the far wall is lined with bottles of wine; so far, so fancy. But the unclothed tables and exposed ducting on the ceiling are reassuringly unpretentious, and stop the place from feeling too girly.

This, after all, is the latest production from the team responsible for Manchester's manliest, meatiest eating houses – Mr Thompson's Chop House and Sam's Chop House – well-loved favourites both, but not exactly venues for the ladies who lunch.

The owner Steve Pilling and chef-partner Simon Stanley have left those successful chop houses in other hands, and moved on to create a very different eating experience; the perfect local restaurant.

Damson, which opened in April, is a place any one of us would kill to have on our local high street. Everything about it works wonderfully well; the stylish, understated room, the friendly, well-informed young staff and best of all, the menu full of things you really want to eat, from baked sea-bass with ragu of squid and tomato to sirloin steak and "real chips".

After years at the Chop Houses, head chef Simon Stanley is obviously enjoying getting in touch with his feminine side. There's a lightness and some playfulness to his cooking, anchored by rock-solid technique. Take my starter, a rich crab and parsley risotto whose dark depths were topped by a surf-like froth of foamed bisque, and in a cheeky seaside reference, a skewer of deep-fried cockles, finished with salt and vinegar.

More simply composed, but just as good, was a main course of slow-cooked belly pork, the fat well-rendered under a crisp carapace of golden crackling; with it, a slick of perfectly smooth, buttery mash and the palest green apple purée.

My lunch date, the local food critic who had recommended Damson, was enjoying the rare luxury of a non-working lunch, and had nothing critical to say about his starter, sliced wood pigeon breast laid on a thin cross-section of cooked beetroot, with a warm, chutney-like tangle of pickled red onions and candied walnuts. His main course, which partnered chicken breast with gnocchi and wild mushrooms, was heady with the unmistakeable musk of truffle oil; perfectly good, but we agreed that it was more of an autumn dish.

Apparently unruffled by the presence of two critics (my companion was well-known to him, and my own cover eventually blown), owner Steve Pilling was a relaxed host, warm and attentive without going over the top. His recommendation that we pair our shared dessert – a superior rice pudding, lapped by butterscotch sauce – with a glass of velvety Pedro Ximenez Fernando de Castilla sherry, was inspired.

The wine list is obviously a labour of love, wide-ranging and mainly priced at under £30 a bottle. Unable to give it the shakedown it obviously deserves, we sampled from the unusually generous selection of wines by the glass, including a superior Rioja, Valenciso Reserva 2002 – at £12.50 for 250ml. With the lush murmur of Joan as Policewoman swelling from the sound system, and that final, seductive sherry, I could easily see how lunch could stretch into dinner at a place like Damson.

But we had a festival to get back to. Our bill came to £76, with the food accounting for £45 of that. Which, considering the high production values on offer here, was well worth the price of admission.

Damson, 113 Heaton Moor Road, Stockport (0161 432 4666)

Food 3 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 4 stars

Around £35 a head with wine (set lunch £12 for two courses/£15 for three)

Side Orders: Manchester marvels

Abode

Michael Caines' cuisine is slick – the grazing menu costs £12 for three courses and includes salad of wild duck with celeriac chips.

107 Piccadilly (0161 200 5678)

Chaophraya

Manchester's best Thai serves super-fresh well- priced dishes such as prawn with tamarind sauce, topped with deep-fried shallot (£12).

Chapel Walks (0161 832 8342)

Gabriel's Kitchen

Peter Booth's relationship with local suppliers is illustrated by the fact that his meat is supplied by award-winning Mettrick's.

265 Upper Brook Street (0161 276 0911)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links