Heaton Moor

La Cantina

13/05/17

Heaton Moor, Stockport

We are back in our old stamping ground and meeting friends for dinner, so it’s all good. Back in the day, of course, the logical choice would have been Steve Pilling’s Damson, a fine-dining venue that – in our humble opinion – was up there with the very best of them. But sadly, it is no more and, in its place, Steve has established not one but two new venues: Roost, a rotisserie chicken and wood-fired pizza place, and La Cantina, a tapas bar – and it’s the latter that we have chosen to visit tonight.

It’s Saturday around 7pm and the joint is busy. There’s a lively, rustic feel to the place. You cannot book seats here but, luckily, our friends have got here early enough to commandeer a table for four, so we’ve no worries on that score. We are able to enjoy a drink (Estrella Dam on draught!) and some conversation while we peruse the menu, also taking notice of the specials chalked on a board above our heads. Tapas selections cost from £4 to £6 each and we go ahead and order. The service is fast and, considering how busy the place is, really well organised. Okay, so this isn’t going to be in the same league as Damson, but clearly it’s not meant to be. This is somewhere to enjoy a drink and a tasty nibble with friends and, on that score, it succeeds.

The food is uniformly good – a grilled squid dish is particularly delicious: lemony, peppery and just chewy enough, a whole beastie served with crispy tentacles. Yum. All the usual suspects are here – a nicely spicy patatas bravas; boquerones that are fish to the power of fish; a vibrant pork and chorizo stew; a decent paella (which is also available as a takeaway from a van parked just by the entrance). But I should perhaps point out that the portions are, well, tapas-sized. Those who possess a hearty appetite (and I would proudly include myself amidst that splendid horde) may want to ensure that they select several portions apiece if they want to be sure to fully quell the hunger within.

So, come to La Cantina for boozy good times. Damson may be done and dusted but this is the perfect place to catch up with old friends – and, judging by the crowd tonight, it’s already a roaring success – so much so that another la Cantina has just opened in neighbouring Didsbury. It’s almost as though Steve actually knows what he’s doing…

As for Roost, we’ll have to leave that until the next time we’re on ‘the Moor.’

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Heatons Comedy Evening

 

 

Heatons Sports Club, Heaton Moor

01/05/16

The Heatons Sports Club seems an unlikely comedy venue and, indeed, the ad hoc nature of the performance space appears to confirm this: there’s no stage, but there is a badly-erected backdrop with dangerously protruding legs (a trip-hazard if ever I saw one), and  a couple of lights rigged a little too low, so that they glare right into the comics’ eyes. Still, it works: the gig is a sell-out, there’s a pleasant, convivial atmosphere, and the bar is tantalisingly cheap.

This is a regular event. The first Sunday of every month sees local sleb Justin Moorhouse as the resident compere, introducing a decent range of comedians. No wonder it’s sold out; it’s rare to find such quality in a suburban venue. Hats off to the organisers for sorting this one out.

Tonight’s gig starts well.  Justin Moorhouse is a relaxed MC; he’s in command, effortlessly managing some potentially awkward heckling, remaining good-humoured and engaging throughout his introductory set. He’s funny and silly, and sets the tone for the other acts.

The opener is Will Franken, an American comic who does some decent impressions and raises a few laughs, most notably with his generic ‘person/brand name’ advertisement, which is really very good. He misses the mark a bit with some of his jokes though, straying into territory where he appears to be affirming some of the ‘-isms’ he purports to mock. Still, the crowd seems to like him – and he proves me right about the backdrop, stumbling as he catches his foot on one of those protruding legs…

Clayton Jones is a charming, self-deprecating middle, who takes an easy, conversational tone. His set focuses mainly on his experiences growing up mixed-race in London, before moving to the North West (where he never experiences racism, he says – people are too busy hating him for being a Southerner).

Tonight’s headliner is Dave Johns, a seasoned comic, whom we’ve seen a few times before. His is an assured set, delivering laugh after laugh on topics as diverse as his divorce, a Travelodge and the theme from Goldfinger. He also demonstrates that jokes about Isis can be topical, funny and yet inoffensive, with a clever gag about his little girl. Ok, so he does come across as slightly sleazy at one point, attempting to seduce a young woman in the front row with the promise of a Toffee Crisp, but it’s all done with a smile and a wink, and no one could really take offence. He’s due to take the lead in Ken Loach’s new film, I, Daniel Blake, so we’re sure to be hearing more from this comedian before long.

All in all, the Heatons Comedy Evening is a real success, and we’ll definitely be returning. Book now for the next one on June 5th.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Pokusevski’s

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16/04/16

Shaw Road, Heaton Moor

Finding the right place for a leisurely Saturday afternoon lunch, isn’t always easy – especially when you’re meeting up with a couple of old friends who are bringing along their first baby in order to introduce him to you. Pokusevki’s has been on Shaw Road for many years, but it was previously an upmarket delicatessen with a couple of indoor tables and a few more out in a (rather nice) walled garden at the back. But recently it’s undergone a transformation; the indoor dining space has been extended into what was previously the garden and the result is a charming, bustling interior that no longer has to bow to the vagaries of the English weather. Background music is kept discrete enough so that conversation can flow without the need to bellow over the top of it – exactly what we needed. (There’s also a new Pokusevki’s at Media City. Do be careful when making a booking to ensure that you’re talking to the right establishment, something that we spectacularly failed to do. Luckily, they managed to fit us in anyway!)

We took our seats and perused the lunchtime menu. The staff were relaxed and helpful – when a highchair was requested for the smallest diner it was promptly provided. The soup of the day was pumpkin so we all chose a bowl of that and a toasted sandwich apiece, each of which can be supplied on white bread, wholemeal bread or focaccia. The food arrived quickly and when it came, it was piping hot and nicely done. All right, soup and a sandwich isn’t the toughest meal to prepare, but it’s amazing how often places can get it wrong. This however was wonderful. The soup was thick and wholesome, deliciously seasoned and satisfying. My club sandwich was generously loaded with chicken, bacon, rocket and mature cheddar, while Susan’s goat cheese sandwich featured caramelised onion, tomato and rocket. A side order of chips was just the ticket, crispy and salty and exactly what was needed.

We had coffees to follow and the bill came to around £15 per head. Mission accomplished. While we there, we couldn’t help noticing the long list of tapas-style dishes and main courses available later in the day, so we resolved to return at some point for further investigation.

But for what we needed today, this would be hard to beat.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

The Savoy Cinema/Dark Horse

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22/10/15

We’re at the cinema again and the film we’re here to see is Dark Horse, a charming documentary about the racehorse Dream Alliance. Bred by a consortium of working class people from a former pit village in Wales, the horse went on to become a major player on the racetrack and this is his story, told by the people of the village. It’s an absolute charmer of a film and one which I would normally award more review space to, but tonight is a little bit different, because it’s mostly all about the cinema; the recently refurbished Savoy in Heaton Moor, and frankly that’s something I never expected to be able to say.

The Savoy has been in Heaton Moor since 1923 and it’s seen some changes along the way, not all of them for the better. The last time I was here was shortly before it closed down and the place was in desperate need of some TLC. Grubby, dilapidated and worn down by years of neglect, there were maybe half a dozen people in the audience. I remember joking that I wouldn’t visit again unless I’d had my malaria shots first. But what a change is here, my friends! What a change indeed.

As members of the Friends of the Savoy, we saw Dark Horse at one of the free screenings the Mundin family have set up as an introduction to the venue. On arrival, it was apparent that work wasn’t quite completed. The exterior fascia was still only partly in position and there were heaps of builder’s rubble to negotiate (this despite the team seeming to work every hour of every day to meet their deadline). Those iconic pillars were back, even though they are reproductions, the originals having been so badly damaged in the hideous 70s conversion, they had to be taken down. The place is close to looking its old self (see vintage photo above). Once through the doors though, it really was eyebrow-raising time. What was once a shabby boxlike foyer has now been opened up, with luxury seating for those who wish to quaff a quick drink before the show (people very much like us!)

But it’s when you go into the auditorium that the transformation really hits you. Wow! Can this actually be the same place? The looks of delight on the faces of each successive person who came up the stairs told the story. The word ‘luxurious’ is the first one that springs to mind – and the design team have cleverly avoided turning the place into one of those utilitarian boxes that seem to be all the rage now, opting instead for a traditional look, all wine red velvet, soft cushions and art deco flourishes, a look that hints at the long tradition of the Savoy. The size of the place was also a shock. Around the time of my last visit, much of the back of the cinema was cordoned off and you didn’t really get the full impression of the length of the place, which now seats around 850 customers. We were lucky enough to secure one of the plush double sofas towards the back  and I can’t ever remember watching a film in such total comfort.

Oh and in case you were thinking that old and classic meant shonky equipment, don’t be fooled! The Savoy utilises the latest digital technology and crystal clear Dolby surround sound.

This is a cinema lover’s delight and Heaton Moor is incredibly lucky to have it. What’s more, the owners have compiled a programme of great films, including some live link ups for all the theatre and opera lovers in the community. There will be screenings aimed at senior citizens and screenings aimed at youngsters; seriously, they’ve put some thought into this. You’ll find their new website at savoycinemaheatonmoor.com (not to be confused with the old one, which is still lurking about out there, you be careful!)

The Savoy is something to be cherished, so please repay all that hard work by supporting the place. It’s one of only a few independent cinemas still existing in the North West. To step into that auditorium is like stepping back into a more gracious age, a time when cinema was King. The good news is, it looks as though those days are back.

Oh, and I nearly forgot. The bar does an excellent sauvignon blanc!

Dark Horse 4.5 stars

The Savoy Cinema 5 stars 

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

Kro, Heaton Moor

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31/04/15

Kro has been in a prime location on the Moor since 2007. Back in the day, it was mostly famous for it’s Danish-inspired specialities, but that aspect has been somewhat reined in and these days it operates as an upmarket pub grub venue. The place has a relaxed atmosphere and the open plan, glass-walled extension makes for pleasant dining, especially in the summer months. On Sunday evenings there’s ‘Song Swap’ where various musicians come together to perform their material. The staff are relaxed and friendly and nothing is too much trouble. Make no mistake, this isn’t a place where you’d come for haute cuisine. If however, you’re in the market for a great value bit of scran and you’re not in the mood to cook something at home, this is hard to beat. There’s a fairly comprehensive a la carte and every evening, you’ll find a selection of specials chalked up on a board, offering two courses for £10 and three for £12.50.

On our latest visit, we decided to stick entirely to the specials board. I began with Lamb Kofta served with tzatziki, rocket salad and pitta bread. The Kofta was spicy and crunchy, though there was only a single skewer. It was accompanied by a generous side bowl of tzatziki and a dry pitta bread. Susan’s choice was Breaded Salmon Bites with sweet chilli sauceThe bites were light and fluffy, delicately flavoured and nicely set off by the sweet sauce. I thought it was the better of the two starters, certainly more generous, though both were perfectly acceptable.

For the main course, I sampled the Crab Cakes, served with wilted spinach, tartare sauce and French Fries. The cakes themselves were a little dry, though flavoursome enough and there was a large bowl of tartare sauce into which to dunk them. The fries were unremarkable and in my estimation, could have done with another minute in the fryer. Once again, Susan fared better with her choice of Slow Roasted Pork Belly, served with crushed new potato cake and a saje (sic) and onion gravy. The pork was melt in the mouth tender with a pleasing crunchy top layer and the rich onion gravy brought everything together nicely.

The portions were generous enough to eschew a sweet, though all three choices sounded appealing. The total bill for the meal, with a round of drinks, came to less than £30, which any way you look at is exceptional value for money.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney