For a long time, I had it pretty much all my own way on the birthday front. Indeed, although not technically an only child, the age difference between myself and my sisters meant that I was not really accustomed to sharing ANYTHING, and I saw no reason why birthdays should be any different. Even when I found out that Petula Clarke had had the temerity to be born on the same day as me it mattered not a jot, as Pip Schofield was playing Downtown in his broom cupboard with Gordon T. Gopher at the time, and anyway, no-one had really heard of her, leaving me pretty much free to continue enjoying the limelight.
No, it is only in recent years that it has all started to go badly wrong. I now personally know THREE other people who share my birthday, and even worse, TWO of these are in my immediate circle of friends, meaning that this year's celebration - where three of the eleven guests had to share the glory - really did have to be phenomenally good.
With such a high birthday-to-guest ratio, where better to go than Damson, current Cheshire Life Restaurant of the Year and home to the utterly charming Chef Stanley and team, who really couldn't have made us feel more welcome - and lets face it, what every restaurant really wants and needs on a busy Saturday night is for a loud group of highly over-excited people full of pink wine to turn up and start making demands of them. This is what happened:
1. We had our own private room, a little space that I had never noticed before tucked away off the main restaurant. The benefits to the staff of popping us in here were obvious - out of the way, easily contained etc etc - but the effect of this special room was nothing short of magical. Time ceased to operate in any normal sense as we sat encapsulated in our perfect, private bubble and ate all the delicious things that arrived every so often, only emerging into the real world to visit the toilet when absolutely necessary. The downside of this was that, eventually, someone realised it was the middle of the night and that everyone had missed their last train or tram home; let's just say that the local taxi firms probably did very well in the Heaton Moor area on Saturday night.
2. It was universally agreed that the food was pretty much perfect; two guests whose opinion admittedly counts less because neither of them was celebrating a birthday were heard to comment that it was the best restaurant meal they'd had in years. Obviously, when you're paying reasonably high prices (starters are between £6.95 and £9.95 and mains go up to £19.95 for the lamb and the steak) you do expect certain standards, but a large booking (of large, greedy people) certainly does expose any weaknesses in the kitchen, and Damson came through with flying colours. All the food arrived together, beautifully presented and perfectly cooked - no mean feat when everyone wants their steak cooked differently.
The most popular starters, for us, were the scallops, served with pea puree, and the chicken liver and foie gras parfait, which is pictured here. The latter was so gloriously rich and smooth that it soon outstripped the toasted brioche that accompanied it; fortunately, our party included a strong-minded slinkpot on the Dukan diet, and I kindly and selflessly used her toast to mop up my parfait - a clear example of teamwork, methinks. For mains, a couple of healthy souls went for the bream (actually, again, these were the slinky whippets of the table - perhaps there's a connection here *...thinks about this for a moment...swiftly discounts and moves on...*) but most of us chose either the rump steak with dauphinoise potato, or the duck; the steak can be seen briefly here before it went the same way as the parfait.
3. The service provided by the staff was flawless all evening, with extra napkins tolerently brought when there was something of a wine-related incident *glares at Mr Liz who, sadly, is currently at the football and therefore unaware of the ire coming his way* and glasses topped up whenever they got dangerously low. At the end of the night they were most solicitous in procuring us a variety of taxi prices and ensuring everyone got off safely; on reflection, however, it may just be that they were keen to ensure that we were actually going to leave the premises at some point before dawn. Our charming waiter is also to be commended for turning a tactfully blind eye to one of our party carefully cutting tasty morsels from her swanksteak and wrapping them in a napkin for her dog, the Duchess of Didsbury.
4. Simon Stanley is a/ a top chef and b/ the nicest man in Cheftown. He doesn't often cook at Damson these days, and is more often to be found at The Red Lion in High Lane (FAR less convenient for me), but we were lucky enough to have him in residence on Saturday. All I can say about Chef Stanley is that if he ever offers you a little taster of his salt and pepper lobster you should bite his hand off; as long, that is, as it's the actual hand holding the salt and pepper lobster - you can always spit the chef's whites out afterwards.
5. Damson's pastry chef, Katy Torevell, certainly knows how to rustle up a birthday cake. We had ordered and paid for such an item beforehand, with me providing a detailed and helpful specification that included clear instructions such as "um...maybe chocolate? And, um, I like butter icing. Oh, and I really like Maltesers too." Obviously, there's little that could go wrong with such precise direction, but the cake that arrived was breathtaking, prompting us to actually gasp aloud in sheer wonderment. The picture below appeared on Facebook on Sunday and prompted hungry people across Manchester to try to eat their smart phone in a desperate bid to get at THE CAKE.
So thank you to Damson for making a birthday party easily big enough to accommodate three special ones; there really are enough of us now, though, so if you are thinking of applying to join the fifteen of November club, I'm afraid it is now full. Find out more about Damson on their website, and marvel at Katy's cakes here.