Restaurant Review: Damson
On paper, Heaton Moor’s Damson should deliver one of the best Sunday lunches in Manchester.
The first thing going for it is it’s a bloody good restaurant. I’ve had four evening meals there since it opened in 2009 and can’t recall it hitting a single bum note. In my experience, it offers a consistency unmatched by any other restaurant in the city on a Saturday night. The food, the service and the ambiance have been uniformly excellent every single time.*
The second big reason it should rock on a Sunday is that revered restaurateur Steve Pilling is in charge; the man who built his reputation at Sam’s Chop House with its peerless beef roast. I visited the Chapel Walks pub regularly to eat this dish during his tenure and it remains the best non-home-cooked roast I’ve ever had.
Sadly, Sunday lunch at Damson does little to live up to the standards set by the restaurant on other days of the week, or Mr Pilling’s illustrious past.**
A starter of chicken liver and foie gras parfait, rhubarb chutney and toasted ginger brioche wasn’t bad, just mildly irritating. While all well made, the generous parfait slab dwarfed the two small pieces of brioche and thimble’s worth of chutney served alongside it.
Even rationing myself to an enormous chunk of parfait and tiny nibbles of brioche and chutney per bite – not the easiest balancing act, and an overly rich one – I still managed to exhaust the accompaniments with more than a quarter of the paté left.
Fortunately by this stage my wife was tired of her “too dry” game terrine and was able to provide me with some toast reinforcements.
Real problems, as opposed to minor quibbles, appeared with the main: 21 day aged roast rib of Cheshire beef served with Yorkshire pudding, duck fat roasted potatoes, seasonal vegetables and roasting juices.
My beef – seemingly cut from the end of the joint – was brown, not pink as requested. The plate was cold. What I imagine was meant to be the roasting juices was merely a damp stain that appeared to have been wiped around a bit. “Wouldn’t you think they’d give us a gravy boat so we can add a bit more?” said one of my dining companions. “Yes, it is rather dry,” was the consensus reply.
The only thing that was any good was the veg, and even then I’d say it needed cooking for a minute longer, with a knob of butter thrown in for good luck. Still, I’m quite glad they didn’t take the extra time. The vegetables had already shown up five minutes later than the rest of the food.
Dessert of bread and butter pudding was OK, but pretty forgettable. All I really remember about it was being puzzled by the serving temperature. I’d expected hot, I wouldn’t have been surprised by cold, I got tepid. If this was intentional, then fine, but it was a little weird.
There were some positives about the meal. Our waitress was lovely. The restaurant was very accommodating when one of our party asked if she could have a fruit salad instead of one of the listed starters, which was much appreciated. Our table, situated in the recently built extension, was nice and comfortable.
But I do feel a little like I’m clutching at straws.
This was actually my second experience of Sunday lunch at Damson and the first visit was no better. On that occasion we were told they were understaffed, which went some way towards explaining why the usually mustard kitchen and serving teams were so slow and made so many mistakes.
However, I could see no easy excuse this time; no reason why one of Manchester’s finest had delivered a meal so thoroughly mediocre.
I said it on Twitter afterwards that Damson feels like a completely different restaurant on a Sunday. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a very good one.
Dining Room: 3.5/5
Overall score: 35/100 (Mediocre – not worth visiting)
Note: I returned to Damson for Saturday lunch in February 2012. Based on that experience and this one, I don’t think it’s possible to call it “a bloody good restaurant” anymore. The meal certainly wasn’t as bad as the Sunday lunch but it was a very mixed bag and I’ve reduced its mark on my Restaurant Ratings page accordingly.
*A scallop-centred seafood dish with salt and vinegar cockles, which I had on my third visit, is one of the three best starters I’ve ever eaten in Manchester.
**As well as establishing the famous chop houses and The Damson – and winning lots of awards in the process – he’s also had great success with the Red Lion Hotel in Stockport. His next venture, Mr Pilling’s Roast Restaurant and Oyster Bar at The Courthouse in Manchester city centre, looks like a 2012 restaurant opening not to be missed.