Damson

The Moortop

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11/09/15

The Moortop, Heaton Moor Road

The sleepy suburb of Heaton Moor is all of a buzz at the moment – new dining establishments seem to be springing up on every corner and even the iconic Savoy cinema is currently being restored to its former glory, complete with doric columns and a programme of films that people might actually want to see. So it was interesting to hear that in the midst of all the bustle, Damson’s ebullient owner, Steve Pilling, had quietly taken over the Moortop pub, right across the road from his celebrated gourmet restaurant.

To be honest, the Moortop was always a bit of an anomaly here: it had the ambiance of your average Weatherspoons and specialised in the kind of cut price, ‘pile it high’ deep fried nosh that gives pub grub a bad name. To be fair, the latest incarnation is just a temporary stage. In the New Year, the place will be receiving a full upgrade (more of that when we have the information.) For the moment, its been given a lick of paint and offers a small but classy menu with all items reasonably priced –  the ‘proper’ Sunday dinner, complete with a tasty vegetable soup comes in at a tenner – pies and pizzas are priced around £6.75. So you don’t have to break the bank to eat here.

The afternoon we called, we presented them with something of a challenge. There were six of us to dine, three of us vegetarians – but after a little uncertainty, we all found things we were happy to eat. Susan opted for the beef dinner and it was indeed everything you’d expect. Preceded by a small bowl of deliciously creamy parsnip soup, the beef was perfectly cooked, the accompanying vegetables just al dente enough and the Yorkshire pudding (always the trickiest thing to get right)  light and crispy. The rich red wine gravy came in its own pot and made a perfect accompaniment.

One of the veggies opted for the same meal without the meat, when she was told that the chef could provide a suitably non-meat gravy. The absence of beef was compensated for by the addition of an extra Yorkshire pudding. Good move!

I sampled the Feta Cheese pie (as did two others in our party), which was satisfyingly flavoursome, the pastry crisp, the filling rich and creamy. It came accompanied with chips, a generous dollop of Manchester caviar (mushy peas) and the aforementioned red wine gravy.

The youngest member of the party wanted a Neapolitan pizza and this was provided, even though, it wasn’t supposed to be on the menu that day. It was wafer thin and crispy and big enough to make it a struggle for her to finish. (Luckily, purely in the interests of this review, we helped her out!)

All in all, a satisfying family Sunday dinner at a great value price. Would we go again? Yes, indeed! It will be interesting to see what plans Steve has for the place in 2016. In the meantime, get on down there and enjoy.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Damson – Tasting Menu

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Damson, Heaton Moor

17/07/15

We don’t generally review restaurants more than once and I’m more than aware that we have already waxed lyrical about Heaton Moor’s Damson a couple of times, but here’s the situation. We had something special to celebrate and it came to our attention that the restaurant now offered a six course tasting menu at £49.50 per head, served with matching wines for an extra £25. Now, I’ll grant you, this is probably not the kind off money you’d be looking to spend in an ordinary week, but for a special occasion, it’s something you might seriously consider trying. And let me ask you this. How can I not write about the best meal I have ever eaten? Seriously, it was that good. Please bear in mind, that though what I am about to describe may sound like a mountain of food, the portions are skilfully sized to ensure you can enjoy it all without feeling over faced – and the staff here are attentive, and will always accommodate you if you should ask for a short pause between courses.

We began with a tasting of seasonal soup, in this case, potato and fennel. Served in a cup, it was light, creamy and utterly delicious, just enough to whet the appetite and get those taste buds tingling for the delights to come. The soup was matched with a glass of citrusy Pino Grigiot. A very good start.

Next came grilled scallops, with compte cheese and cauliflower croquettes, accompanied by wild garlic, hazelnuts and truffle. Perfectly pitched and as light as air, this came with a glass of Circumstance Rosé, the slightly acidy tang of the wine a perfect companion for the moist and delicious scallop.

The third course was grilled fillet of plaice, served with Jersey royals, sprouting broccoli, sea aster, cockles, mussels and wild garlic pesto. If I had to choose a favourite dish from the selection, this might just take the edge. The plaice was melt-in-the mouth tender and delicately showcased by its delightful companions. The accompanying wine here was Picpoul de Pinet, a fruity zesty white. Sipped at beforehand it was okay, but tasted with the fish, it became exquisite and served as a perfect example of how intelligent wine-matching works.

Now for another standout: roasted rump of lamb with pea and mint mousseline, english asparagus, baby gem, whole grain mustard, morel mushrooms and salt and pepper sweetbreads. In a word, wow! The lamb was so tender and immersed in the mousseline, it tasted like heaven on a plate. Here, the chosen wine was a rich, robust red, Andes Peak Carmenere. Actually, on reflection, this course is neck-and-neck with the previous one as my favourite.

Time for a dessert? Oh yes, especially when it’s a chocolate cremeux with passion fruit and praline ice cream. Sometimes words fail to adequately describe just how delicious a sweet can be and this, I’m afraid, is one of those occasions. Suffice to say that the cremaux was… mmmmm. And the ice cream… aaah!

And so finally to cheese – or more accurately a generous tasting of three English and three French cheeses, served on a board and accompanied by bread, crackers, red grapes and a couple of sticks of celery. Even we struggled to finish this off completely but we were left comfortably full and ever so slightly sozzled, which is of course, the object of the exercise.

Make no mistake. This is a tasting menu to challenge the biggest names in the business and I can’t imagine how it might have been bettered. It’s customary in these reviews to focus on the meals shortcomings, but… try as I might, I couldn’t find one. I should perhaps point out that vegetarians needn’t feel left out of the game as a meat-free version is also available.

So, all of you out there who appreciate fine dining… the next time you have something special to celebrate, you know exactly where to go.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Damson, Heaton Moor

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16/06/15

It’s not our usual practise to re-review a restaurant only a few weeks after we’ve visited, but in Damson’s case, our previous visit was spectacularly mistimed – only a few weeks before the place was given a major refurbishment and the menu overhauled. What’s more, since Steve Pilling’s establishment sets the bar for dining on ‘the Moor’ and because it was Susan’s birthday, now seemed as good a time as any to make an exception to the rule.

Apart from a few touches, Damson hasn’t changed that much inside, but the exterior has been completely repainted and the terrace is now surrounded by higher wooden enclosures, liberally planted with flowers and shrubs, while the seating and tables have all been replaced. It’s now an absolute pleasure to sit out in sunny weather with a drink (assuming, that is, that you can find such weather in Stockport!)

As for the menu, there’s a new selection of reasonably priced cocktails on offer and some sharing platters, one of which we decided to try instead of a conventional starter (though the platters are usually available only on the lunch menu.) These are generously sized wooden boards, which come loaded with four kinds of cured meat, four kinds of cheese, plenty of sourdough bread, butter, chutney, homemade pickles and your choice of three jars, each one packed with a delicious spread – there are eight jars to choose from. We opted for Duck with potted pear and hazelnut, Whitby Crab and Crayfish with avocado and Herb Goat’s Curd with salt baked beetroot. To say that each of these was delicious would be something of an understatement. They were, quite frankly, exquisite. A sharing board costs just £15 and at lunchtime, accompanied by a drink, are clearly a brilliant idea for two diners.

But this was a birthday evening so we moved on to a couple of main courses from the new set menu, now available till 9.30 on a weekday and till 6.30 at the weekend. it costs £15 for a main course, £20 for two courses and  £25 for three. My choice was the Slow Cooked Middle White Pork Belly with apricot, pak choy, curried lentils and potato. As ever, this was note perfect, the mildy spiced lentils proving the perfect accompaniment to that succulent, mouth-watering meat. Susan sampled the Grilled Fillet of Mackerel, with pesto creamed potato, tomato, olives, coriander and lemon. The fish was perfectly cooked, with a crispy exterior and a moist, richly flavoured interior, the intense flavour perfectly counterpointed by the delicately flavoured pesto mash.

Would there be room for any of those delicious desserts? Sadly no, mainly because the sharer had been so generously proportioned, but I’m not complaining. (See our previous review for our thoughts on Damson’s desserts!) Suffice to say that after six years, Damson is not resting on its laurels and the Moor’s other contenders are going to have to work really hard if they hope to challenge its dominance. Our meal with a decent bottle of Pino Grigio came to around £65, proof positive that you don’t have to pay out a fortune for fine cuisine.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Damson, Heaton Moor

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29/05/15

Of all the restaurants I’ve ever eaten in (and they are many and varied), Damson remains my favourite – and not just because of the food.

Make no mistake, the food here is consistently delicious. But there’s that friendly, convivial vibe as well; the calm, relaxing decor; and the understated professionalism of the front of house team.

We’re here tonight for the early bird menu, which offers two courses for £16.95, or three for £19.95. Of course, we will eat three. The portions here are perfectly balanced, leaving the diner satisfied but not too full. There’s always room for one of their exquisite puddings.

To start, I opt for the tartare of Cheshire beef fillet, while Philip has  a chicken Caesar salad. The tartare is light and fresh and melts in the mouth, but Philip’s salad is even better. There’s an egg, which has been caught at exactly that moment between soft and hard, its orange yolk glistening most attractively. It’s anchovy-rich, a creamy delight of a starter, and certainly whets the appetite for what is yet to come.

Next up, I have the grilled fillet of sea bass, which comes with pesto creamed potato. Again, this is note-perfect, the fish all crispy skin and moist soft flesh. Olives and tomatoes add piquancy to the dish. I want to lick my plate. Philip has the roasted rump of lamb (for a supplement of £5); this comes with goats’ cheese mash, sweetbreads, braised baby gem, peas, broad beans and morels. It sounds like hearty fare, but it’s as delicate as can be, and the lamb is softer and richer than any I’ve tasted before.

Then there’s the pudding. Philip has the creme fraiche tart with crushed raspberries and strawberry sorbet, a sweet-sharp combination that literally has him whimpering with delight. I go for the chocolate cremeux with macerated strawberries and vanilla ice cream, the richness of the chocolate perfectly offset by the freshness of the fruit.

We’ve eaten in restaurants with bigger reputations than Damson, but nowhere else we’ve been to has yet rivalled it for such unpretentious but accomplished food. There is confidence here, and care too, and it makes for a most satisfying experience. We’ll certainly be back for more.

5 stars

Susan Singfield