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Damson, Heaton Moor, review

Peter O’Grady (former co-proprietor of the Market Restaurant) takes a close look at Steve Pilling’s new place in Heaton Moor

Published on May 11th 2009.

Damson, Heaton Moor, review

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have a good quality neighbourhood restaurant. No public transport, no taxis, no nominated driver, just the sheer pleasure of a short walk down the road to be greeted and seated within minutes of leaving your front door.

Now I know all about the virtues of a good neighbourhood restaurant, because, Steve Pilling, ex-maestro of Sams’ and Toms’ Chophouses is back in the restaurant game with Damson in Heaton Moor.

Not that it was easy to get into the place to begin with. Our first attempt failed as Damson was jammed, so to speak. So we took the precaution of booking for the next evening - which was already looking busy.

Passing through the purple-hued entrance we knew immediately that this was the real deal. The place gave off the aura of being run by a professional. For a suburban place it has class, a great buzz about it and seems very confident about what it’s trying to do.

Mr Pilling, himself, glided over to the table and sat us down at the reassuringly solid table. Aperitifs and a good bottle of Portuguese red already ordered, we set about studying the delightful menu over a plate of homemade bread. No easy choices here. There were too many things we wanted to try.

Balsamic glazed chicken livers, roasted onion puree, mushroom & truffle dressing.

We settled on smoked trout, new potatoes and watercress salad (£6.75) which comes with a lemon butter sauce and a sprinkling of Morecambe Bay shrimp and capers. Well-sourced and well-sauced, this was a treat of pink-fleshed trout and the excellent (warm) new potatoes. My dining companion went for fresh Whitby crab and parsley risotto (£6.75) which comes with salt and vinegar cockles. I’ll just say it warmed her heart. The meal had started on a high, would the mains maintain the standard?

They certainly did. My 21 day aged sirloin steak (£16.95) came with garlic and herb butter, real chips and a bowl of watercress, cherry tomatoes and red onions. It was delivered to the table pink as ordered. The other main of slow cooked rare breed pork belly (a bargain at £9.95) had proper mash, buttered cabbage, apple puree and roasting juices to help it on its way. Not that it needed much helping. It disappeared quicker than the blossom on the lovely old damson tree in our back garden during an April shower. Exquisite and unctuous.

Fresh Whitby crab and parsley risotto, salt & vinegar cockles.

Both dishes showed just how competent the kitchen led by Simon Stanley (the chef partner) is at handling apparently simple menu items and bringing out the best in them.

Rump of English lamb, spring vegetables, fondant potato, aubergine chutney.

A lemon crème brûlée (£4.95) of just the right consistency followed with that hit of citrus and a delightful crunchy caramel. A pop at the Cheeseboard (£6.95) of English and French cheeses recommended by local lad Peter Paprill, the cheese detective (check out www.thecheesedetective.co.uk ) came with homemade chutney and biscuits and completed our Damson feast.

Steve Pilling’s wine list is a mini-masterpiece, with over 70 carefully selected types – with more to come - featuring a staggering number of grape varieties. The tastings for the list were conducted whilst Steve was recuperating from surgery, so he was flat on his back before he’d touched a drop. That’s dedication. Seek out the Le Fou, Pinot Noir from Lanquedoc if you want a delight: this is lush, full, blackberry crammed and under £20.

As for the decor Damson’s is a comfortable space, easy on the eye. I worried at first that the stone flagged floor would make for an unbearably noisy evening, but the judicious use of curtaining along one wall and a sound-deadening membrane under the floor overcomes that potential problem. Attention to detail. It matters.

We had a great evening, no major moans, no long waits between courses or for orders to be taken. The only minor gripe was that the post-prandial coffees were too weak but, hey, that can easily be sorted.

Damson will, without a doubt, succeed. It’s great to see that a fiercely independent operation based on the principles of good service and good food can still open in these straitened times.

This is an exemplary neighbourhood restaurant. You could say it’s right up my street.

A final observation. If, like me, you have ever had the misfortune to carry a tray of damsons from a Farmers' Market to your car, you’d have shared that journey with a swarm of wasps anxious to avail themselves of your bounty. The punters of Heaton Moor will be making a similar bee-line for Damson.

Rating: 17.5/20
Breakdown: 8/10 food
5/5 service
4.5/5 ambience
Address: Damson
113 Heaton Moor Road
Heaton Moor
0161 432 4666

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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62 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

ChickMay 11th 2009.

Gawd Bisso, give Steve Pilling a chance in Heaton Moor first! Agree about the Chop Houses

what no.....May 11th 2009.

After eating here i was dissapointed the whole menu is made up of dishes from the former chop houses has the chef no imagination or is he just playing it safe? either way i wasnt that impressed with the food but evrything else is amazing decor, wine service 10/10 from me!

Peter SMay 11th 2009.

My boss had a drawing of himself on the walls of Sams chop house . Boy , was he flush about it . He would take clients in and ask them to look around the place and ask them if they could spot any one they might know. God , it was so embarassing , in the end one of the senior partners had to tell him to stop it .The pictures of Damson look really great , would be brilliant to have a restaurant just around the corner . Heaton moor , you are lucky

PROSE-eurMay 11th 2009.

Not this review, Poseur. But fair's fair, it's not too bad for a first attempt. Steve Pilling knows what he is doing, therefore he gets good reviews. As it says in the story "attention to detail matters" Pilling shows that in spades - he deserves good reviews. Did you, "Critic Victim"?

MagsMay 11th 2009.

By the way that was to "What no.... says" - its just a great british menu show casing some of our best produce.....Well done Mr P for opening a seriously good restaurant on our door step.

ChickMay 11th 2009.

I can't wait to try this restaurant - Steve Pilling deserves the success given the recognition he has quite rightly earned in Manchester. It's a tough time for all restaurants at the moment, even more so for those in the suburbs. We have seen the demise of one neighbourhood restaurant (although that cannot be put down to the recession entirely) and there is another on the cards. Both Chop Houses now live off the back of their former glory when Steve Pilling was at the helm and in my opinion are moving swiftly backwards, particularly Sam's - Tom's is marginally better. If it were not for the glorious architecture, they would both be a copuple of bog-standard city-centre boozers. Oh, forgot to add; the chefs at Damson are pretty damn good too.

madwifeMay 11th 2009.

re:food lover. I 100% agree with your comment. food fantastic, good quality, good portion sizes, lovely wine, great service, relaxed atmosphere, what more could you ask for? re: "what no..." sounds like you ve got a chip on your shoulder and very jealous. i have recommended damsons to all my friends and family and i will return asap. well done simon and steve, keep up the good work x

GordoMay 11th 2009.

or should that be gamekeeper turned poacher?

CastlefieldMay 11th 2009.

Leave Lowry out of this McNara. I'm going to sample this obviously wonderful place very soon. Never have I seen a place that has so enthused ManCon readers!

RenoMay 11th 2009.

I always thought with his bright collection of waistcoats Steve looked like a Victorian spiv..do you know what I mean ?

local blokeMay 11th 2009.

damson is ok the portions are a bit small for the prices offered, i hope heather is not too dispointed when she gets out of her shell and books

anonMay 11th 2009.

why have the pictures changed since yesterday???

Thoroughly MancMay 11th 2009.

Ha. You wish. Now if you care to continue this, let's take it outside - to Facebook.

Andy PandyMay 11th 2009.

About your comments regarding Damson , the same thing happened to me over the weekend . The customers seemed to be divided into two camps [ A ] Those from Sams and [B ] Those not , Thus [A ] GET A BIG LOAD OF ATTENTION and [B ] DON'T . Now the true secret of success is to remember " Treat everybody the damn same or they will go to the next restaurant .

costelloMay 11th 2009.

I have it on good authority that Mr P wanted to open quietly, not do the media circus, and just let positive word of mouth create the best PR - reccommendations....which is exactly what's happening. He managed to go 4 or 5 weeks without ManCon reviewing, and has also managed to escape that scary woman from the Metro coming in while the paint was still drying; she'll probably be in tomorrow after this piece!

mark mMay 11th 2009.

love the comment costello. Emma j loves to diss places that have just opened. I love steve and would bet that even SHE could not find fault with just opened Damson. Am salivating at the thought of going down....

DestinoMay 11th 2009.

Hey, Lover of Food, could it be here?


i've just found out that steve and simon are opening the red lion inn in high lane!!! how exciting!!!! is this true - can't wait if it is as i live in disley!!!

ElizabethMay 11th 2009.

Fantastic restaurant, have been twice and both food and service was exceptional. I would have given 20/20!

Harrison BoredMay 11th 2009.

There was a young man called Pilling , Who would'nt take the mad men's shilling , So , he puckered up his gums , picked up his plums , And created a place called Damn Sums !If you say it a couple of times , it gets better . Thats what you get when you are stuck in a office bored senseless ...Steve Pilling is a top bloke , Chris is right , both chop houses are yesterday heroes especially Sam's . It's like they have no soul . Can't wait to try Damson or is it Damn Sum . It will , I am sure just like Tom's in the glory days . Loved the crack about the customers pictures on the walls of the chop house . My boss had his picture up there , he was terribly proud of it , the sad beggar

AnonymousMay 11th 2009.

I have worked with simon the guy is a great chef and knows his stuff. I know he will not dissapoint!

GordoMay 11th 2009.

Peter, excellent bit of poacher turned gamekeeper there me old son. Mr. Pilling, your silence is deafening, have you fallen out with Gordo, or just plain scared ;-)

Tim ButlerMay 11th 2009.

Hello,Went to Damson last night for my wife, Claire's birthday. It has to go down as the greatest meal I've ever had ! I've ate a lot of steaks in my time but not one as good as last night, cooked to perfection. And as for the cheese board, well you just have to go and try it. Lovely interior and service impeccable. I take my hat of to the chef and all his staff. In one word "Wonderfull"

AnonymousMay 11th 2009.

Visited Damson this weekend. The food was great - meat and veg cooked to perfection. However, the service is a little hit and miss. The waiting staff were pleasent but we sat for the entire evening with the plate on the table from the bread that arrived pre-order and empty wine glasses and bottles; we poured our own wine all night long; two of the very limited main courses were unavailable when we eventually ordered when we really should have been told prior to ordering; one waiter did not know the difference between Sherry and Port; not one waiter asked if everything was OK, during three courses. The service was what I would call 'pub' service - pour your own wine, glasses collected with fingers rather than on a tray, no cutlery before the courses, etc. Very nice but is this a restaurant or a pub? We felt very isolated and ignored whilst the owner prefered to chit-chat with ex-Tom's and Sam's customers. The MEN review talked of 'attention to detail' - I could see none. As I said the food was great but it was akin to being in my local village pub as far as service was concerned.

ImpressedMay 11th 2009.

Went for lunch yesterday. amazing. will be going back for evening meal and more wine ASAP.

AvoMay 11th 2009.

I can read you like a book Manc.

AvoMay 11th 2009.

Birthday treat?

Tony McNaraMay 11th 2009.

Red Ken, you what? Liam Spencer? Oh God, you think these are more original than pictures of regulars? Liam Spencer is the most over-used Manchester artist since LS Lowry and he's not even as good as that god-awful miserablist debt-collector.

noelMay 11th 2009.

Well done Steve Pilling , once again proving that class , passion , experience , flair and a bloody great personality can overcome anything . Terrific review , the crowds will be rolling in . ps well done Simon and the rest of the team

Max MosleyMay 11th 2009.

Take note Miss Jones, table for one at damsons if you please. Sounds like my type of place .

heaton moor restaurateurMay 11th 2009.

As one of Heaton Moor's restaurateurs, I feel compelled to respond to Heather's comment. I, and other owners, wish Steve well in his venture and welcome the launch of a different dining experience to give Heaton Moor residents a good mix of dining styles. However, to liken the rest of us to a prison or school canteen is quite frankly very insulting. Most of us have been open for many years and are still managing to survive in a crippling credit crunch. I don't think it's fair to knock us in this way simply because we now have a more uprmaket offering. Good luck Steve, we all wish you well.

Thoroughly MancMay 11th 2009.

Bloody hell, there's no deceiving you, eh?

lennie the lion heartMay 11th 2009.

I think Damson has about 45 covers , maybe 50 . it's quite discreet , opposite a pub . Parking is a beggar but for the restaurant experience ...unparalled

Hanky SpankerMay 11th 2009.

Flipping heck , I 'm off to Damson , great nosh and a good hiding as well . Sounds marvelous

Thoroughly MancMay 11th 2009.

Bit harsh that eh, Critic Victim? Anyway, nice to see something decent on Heaton Moor's horizon. I look forward to checking it out.

Red KenMay 11th 2009.

so mark m is "salivating at the thought of going down "......priceless , priceless . Damson , can I ask a favour , please can we not have any tacky and tasteless photographs or drawings of the customers a la chop house style on the walls . It just does not work , perhaps a couple of Liam Spencer prints . Thanks Mr Pilling

Mark AddyMay 11th 2009.

Steve Pilling is the complete people person . If you look at his track record , you will understand . He took a scruffy , rundown little boozer that stank of old cabbage and piss and turned it into a damn gem . " thank you " whispered Mr Tom's . He went and replicated that success in that hole in the ground which had been barren for years . " Thank you " whispered Sam's chop house . Now it sounds like Damsons is firing all pistons , great news !!When you go for a restaurant experience there is more than the food element and that's where Steve's brilliance comes to the forte . He knows to a exact point what the customer wants and needs , and then gives it to them . Sounds so simple , dos'nt it and yet so difficult to achieve consistenly .

waspyMay 11th 2009.

let me at your plums


Note to "what no.....says" - i have eaten quite a few times now at damson and may i just say that simon stanley is an absolute genius. the food on the menu at Toms and Sams were simons creations - why shouldn't he take this with him to Damson, for years the Chop Houses took the credit for Simons award winning menu, the two wouldn't have been anywhere near the success story that they were without the fantastic food created by this brilliant chef. As for the portion sizes - bob on, i couldn't have possibly eaten more and was absolute value for money, unless of course you are just another greedy twerp with an expanding waistline that could never be satisfied a.k.a "local bloke" and note also anonymous local bloke - Damson Restaurant is far more than ok! Simon is one of the most talented chefs around manchester right now and with his partnership in the legend that is Steve Pilling i am sure that Damson will be the absolute success it deserves to be.

CastlefieldMay 11th 2009.

Richard, can't agree with you more over the Worsely point, Worsley should be so much better! However the guy that's done the review here is obviously starting out on these things and giving it a go. Gordo is, of course, the king but Man Con need other reviewers so lets give the guy a few reviews before we start putting him down!

what no.....May 11th 2009.

After eating here i was dissapointed the whole menu is made up of dishes from the former chop houses has the chef no imagination or is he just playing it safe? either way i wasnt that impressed with the food but evrything else is amazing decor, wine service 10/10 from me!

WendyMay 11th 2009.

Just tried to book Damson for Friday or Saturday night , fully booked...On this rate , I do hope he opens another one now . How many seats does Damson have ?

Andys mateMay 11th 2009.

Wish she would spank me , when I do something wrong I have to sit on the naughty step . Andys fate sounds far more favourable

LOVER OF FOODMay 11th 2009.

i heard that there may be another damson opening in manchester in the not so distant future can anyone shed any light on this???? wheres it going to be ????

MagsMay 11th 2009.

My arse.... do you see corned beef hash, fish & chips, steak & kidney suet pudding?

Mad DogMay 11th 2009.

I've eaten in Damson 3 times. Well done Steve, Simon and team. As for Mr "What No..?"'s comments - the dishes are Simon's - not the Chop's! And a sirloin with side order is £17.45 in the Lime Tree so dunno what planet Mike is on ("over-priced"?!!!!!)

MikeMay 11th 2009.

I've not eaten at Damson yet (the menu looked over-priced when I walked past the other week) but as a resident of the Heatons, I find the patronising of the suburbs rather silly. What does "For a suburban place it has class" actually mean? Aren't many of the best eateries in the suburbs anyway, such as The Lime Tree, Greens, and the unjustly overlooked Gurkha Grill in West Didsbury? Also, Heather has a point when she writes "it won't need to be great to be the best in Heaton Moor." The Heatons Tandoori in Shaw Road is a terrific Indian. They know and look after their regulars, which is always a good sign.

richard hillMay 11th 2009.

Damsons sounds like the type of restaurant we need in Worsley , pretty barren here . Is this an official man con review ? I am surprised since Steve is obviously an important member of the catering trade and would warrant a visit from the esteemed Gordo .

andy pandy's mumMay 11th 2009.

Sorry about that , that's what the little beggar is like when he has had too much sugar . According to the vast amount of comments here , service is of a high , fair and consistent standard . Support your local restaurant . As for Andy , he will be send to bed early and any more remarks like this he will spanked

EternalEnvyBoutiqueMay 11th 2009.

We went on Sunday, the food was absolutely beautiful and the service was teriffic.

murraymintMay 11th 2009.

another stellar restaurant from mr pilling. well done! great food, great wine, and great ambience... also hats off to first time manageress kelly robson who made our dining exprenience truly sublime.

AnonymousMay 11th 2009.

Steve Pilling is an absolute genius and is one of the nicest men you will ever meet. He deserves to succeed

PoseurMay 11th 2009.

Does a Damson review qualify as Purple Prose?

boyoMay 11th 2009.

I for one cant wait to try the food at damson i have worked for simon stanley the guy is a great chef and heaton moor are lucky to have him on their doorstep

BissoMay 11th 2009.

Had dinner in damson last night , the lamb was superb . Service lean and mean , just the right touches for this lad . To be truthful , its a bit of a gem . Lot's of people coming in to book tables , Stevie Wonder on the sound system...no more talk please about the chophouses , its so yesterday . Lets hear more about a few more Damson's ie one in Didsbury

Critic victimMay 11th 2009.

that will be restaurateur turned sh1thouse, Gordo

Miserablist Debt CollectorMay 11th 2009.

I would certainly cheer up if Mr McNara would stand me a lunch at Damson. Sounds wonderful.

HeatherMay 11th 2009.

I look forward to trying 'Damson'. It won't need to be great to be the best in Heaton Moor. All the rest offer the kind of attitude you might expect to find in a school canteen or a prison. (Same thing).

Salford VoterMay 11th 2009.

If Hazel Blears cares to write me a cheque for £13,332, I could eat at Damson every day for a year, including train fares (and still have change).

David BaileyMay 11th 2009.

A picture tells a thousand words, but not about some of the dishes pictured here..... about which, not a word. In fact a deafening silence. Why?

MagsMay 11th 2009.

Great addition to the Heaton Restaurant scene!!Pigeon pie to die for & a perfect uncious belly pork @ only £9.95 - what more could you want

ruby ruby rubyMay 11th 2009.

we have eaten at damson 3 times so far, and each time the food and wine has been superb, steve is the most consumate host who has a knowlage of wine and food that any mich star restaurant would be proud i sa good luck to damson and more power to the independent restaurants of manchester (and stockport)

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