Two restaurants. Two national Sunday newspapers. Two rave reviews. Where are they? Shoreditch perhaps? Mayfair? Notting Hill?
Nope, nope, nope. They’re not even in Manchester.
Welcome to Stockport, described more than once as a culinary desert, but with two restaurants a few miles apart being praised by national critics and boasting a foodie reputation that’s definitely on the rise.
It probably comes as no surprise that one of the restaurants we’re talking about is Sam Buckley’s much-praised Where the Light Gets In, awarded a maximum five stars for both food and atmosphere in Lisa Markwell’s glowing review for the Sunday Times magazine.
More striking was Jay Rayner’s gushing tribute in the Observer – on the same day as the Sunday Times‘ article – to Y Sok’s Angkor Soul in Marple, one of only two Cambodian restaurants in the UK.
How on earth did the oft intimidating Masterchef critic find Marple? Did he and Ms Markwell take the same expeditionary train up from London to ‘do’ Stockport as AA Gill and Jeremy Clarkson once ‘did’ Wilmslow? If so, their findings were in complete contrast to the latter pair’s sneering hatchet job.
Markwell’s review of ‘the best restaurant you’ve never heard of’ makes the point that her pal Marina O’Loughlin, due very soon to take over the late AA Gill’s restaurant critic role at the Sunday Times on a permanent basis, had already seen the light and had meted out high praise in The Guardian in May.
Despite her misgivings about £75-a-head ten-course no-choice menus (matching wines are £45 and there’s no choice there either), Markwell describes chef patron Buckley, 34, who trained at Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume, as ‘clearly a persuasive, charismatic boss as well as a stellar chef’.
Where the Light Gets In is in the centre of Stockport – if you can find it in an old warehouse in back street Rostron Brow.
Angkor Soul masquerades, according to Rayner, as an ‘unshowy cafe’ with a record shop in the basement. It was founded by Y Sok, whose family fled to America from the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.
She began cooking for children’s picnics then snacks as she followed her musician father from gig to gig. She met her English husband, who collects vinyl records, and turned up in Marple where she opened the restaurant two years ago.
After waxing lyrical about the food, Rayner says: “The restaurant lives up to its name. It has soul”.
A few years back, I was asked to write the basis of Stockport’s bid for city status. In order to big up the town, one of the requirements was to name famous sons and daughters of Stockport (aka Stopfordians).
Thank goodness for Wimbledon champ Fred Perry because I’m not too sure how amused the Queen would have been with two other luminaries. Edmund Shaa, founder of Stockport Grammar School had earlier become Lord Mayor of London in 1482. Shakespeare has him drumming up support for the usurpation of King Richard III, which wasn’t great news for the Princes in the Tower.
Her Maj – in whose gift the bestowal of city status lies – would have been even less enthused by John Bradshaw of Marple who presided over the trial of Charles I and whose signature was first on the King’s death warrant. Two years after Bradshaw died he was dug up and beheaded posthumously. Needless to say, Stockport is still not a city.
The town is, however, on the up. Last year the Manchester Food and Drink Festival crowned Stockport’s Foodie Friday, staged weekly in the market place, best pop-up event of the year.
The surroundings in the old town would grace much more touristy spots with a magnificent Victorian market hall (saved by the people from local authority vandals), Bakers’ Vaults, beautifully restored by local brewers Robinson’s, whose own visitors’ centre round the corner is well worth a few hours, and the Grade I listed parish church of St Mary, which traces its history back to 1190. The Arden Arms down the road is a special pub.
It’s been said that its hard to spot the join between Manchester and Salford. The same goes for Stockport as Gatley merges with Sharston and Wythenshawe and Didsbury morphs into the Heatons. Heaton Moor, where Steve Pilling launched Damson, has been a popular foodie enclave for some time.
That’s not surprising. Look how Didsbury’s conviviality moved west to West Didsbury and Chorlton. It’s just as capable of moving west into the Heatons and the rest of Stockport.