Now, I know there's a serious risk that many of you will be as fed up with Mr Liz's epic "Birthday Fortnight" (which, incidentally, is set to rumble on for another week at least) as I am, so I promise that after this post, you will hear no more about it. However, every birthday celebration needs a jewel in its crown, and for Mr Liz this came on Friday - for Friday was DAMSON NIGHT.
I've written before of this little gem of a restaurant, tucked away in Heaton Moor and consistently serving some of the best food in Greater Manchester. Now, however, there is a serious danger that others will become aware of its classy charms, for Damson's chef, Simon Stanley, is up for Chef of the Year at this year's Manchester Food and Drink Festival. As well as being a great chef, he also knows how to spoil a birthday gentleman - here are some of the highlights...
Pre-starter: before the serious business of ordering off the menu began, we had the pleasure of a taster dish that Chef Stanley had created in Mr Liz's honour. This was a splendid "risotto" that had apparently been made with potato rather than rice; it also contained morel mushrooms, truffle butter, a beautiful deep-fried quail's egg and a hefty dollop of magic. I cannot say any more about this dish as I've been sworn to secrecy - suffice to say that I can't really think of a restaurant dish I've had recently that either tasted better, or showed higher levels of skill. I'm ashamed but not remotely suprised to hear myself confessing that I ate all of mine and half of another, slower-at-eating person's; after all, it was practically my birthday.
Starters: Now, you'd hope, I think, that with a party of twelve diners I'd pretty much be able to tell you about ALL the starters on the Damson menu; sadly this is not the case, as two choices proved quite overwhelmingly popular with my selfishly un-blog-focused companions. The first - unsurprisingly - was the chicken liver & foie gras parfait, served with apricot and raisin chutney and toasted ginger brioche; I always have this, so although you've seen it many times on this blog, you can see it again. It was as luxuriously rich as ever, melting unctiously into the warm, sweet brioche with all the decadence required for a birthday celebration. The other hit was the pigeon breast with Bury black pudding croquettes, served alongside celeriac and apple remoulade, pickled golden raisins, honey and whole grain mustard dressing, and it must be noted that it has taken me longer to type the name out than it did for a number of hungry-faced guests to snarf down the perfectly pink pigeon and its array of well-judged accompaniments.
Mains: Once again, there were two stand-out dishes in terms of popularity. Pictured here you see the 28 day aged sirloin steak, served with dauphinoise potato, flat mushrooms, spinach and garlic, topped with a roasted shallot and red wine sauce - a classic dish that is an ever-present on the Damson menu, and deservedly so. Everyone's steak was cooked exactly to their liking, and the meat itself was so tender that the steak knives provided were entirely superfluous to requirements. The dish is almost worth ordering just for the dauphinoise potato, which is so deceptively soft, creamy and yielding to the touch that you almost miss the hefty garlic kick it delivers with such panache right at the end (not a SINGLE vampire troubled us on the way home, and you can't tell me that's just coincidence).
The other very popular dish was the slow cooked belly of middle white pork, served with spiced white cabbage and pulses, pickled golden raisins and - adorably - a little cast iron cassoulet dish containing a wonderfully smoky, sultry side of beans and chorizo (yes, I fear I HAVE had my fork in someone else's dinner again). All the meat used by Damson comes from Chorlton butcher extraordinaire Lee Frost, and the quality really shows in these simple yet elegant dishes. The menu also offers a couple of excellent fish dishes (the cod is pictured here) that went down a treat with two of the diners, and the roasted poussin served with croquettes of the legs, wild mushroom macaroni, new season Wye valley English asparagus and lemon sabayon was also a hit. In short, twelve diners with wildly differing tastes ate every scrap and had nothing but praise for every dish sampled.
Pre-dessert: another special, just-for-Mr-Liz's birthday dish (I fear his birthday expectations may be hard to manage from now on), this was an exciting selection of dainty treats including pistachio panna cotta, caramel salted popcorn and chocolate rum and raisin clusters. We liked. A LOT.
CAKE: now, when we came to Damson for my birthday, we ordered a splendid cake from Katy Torevell, pastry chef at both Damson and The Red Lion at High Lane - a vast chocolate affair laden with Maltesers and chocolate fingers. I have been absolutely banned from using the phrase "monkey see, monkey do, monkey want more" in any way shape or form after the birthday boy took exception to its appearance in my last post, so I shall simply point out that, for his birthday meal, Mr Liz had requested a splendid cake from Katy Torevell - a vast chocolate affair laden with Maltesers and chocolate fingers. And here it is.
So, once again, Damson has delivered. The food was flawless, and with the most expensive main (the steak) at £19.95, is excellent value in view of its quality. The staff coped well with such a large, noisy party and are clearly both knowledgable and enthusiastic about the food that they serve up, happy to answer questions and explain small details about the dishes on the menu. Highly recommended - and if you want to vote for Simon as Chef of the Year, you can do so HERE whilst I take a rest and consider my birthday duties truly and utterly fulfilled.
- Damson is at 113-115 Heaton Moor Road, Heaton Moor, Stockport, Cheshire SK4 4HY; tel. 0161 432 4666; you can find out more about Katy's beautiful cakes at her Sugar Lump Confections via her Facebook page.