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)

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
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

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Recruitment Genius: HGV Class 2 Lorry Driver / CPC and HIAB Training Provider

    £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A HGV Class 2 Lorry Driver is required t...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum