Stockport Old Town has seen a bit of a resurgence in its food scene over the past couple of years with Foodie Friday, a hugely popular and established monthly event showcasing the best in street food and drink, and gearing up a notch or two with the launch of two very different fine dining restaurants – Where the Light Gets In and The Allotment Vegan.
The Allotment’s owner Matthew Nutter began exploring veganism on his travels in India, finding it a much healthier and sustainable lifestyle choice and more suited to his other passion – running marathons.
Matt chose Stockport – an economical but also a brave choice – for his first permanent vegan restaurant, which opened in August last year. But how have the locals taken to his venture?
Rather well, if the night we went is anything to go by. The space, which has a charming farmhouse kitchen feel, was packed (we took our pictures at the end of the evening when all the guests had left).
It’s simple and homely and perfectly suited to the vegetable-driven menu, with a fine display of produce the chefs frequently pop out of the open kitchen to use throughout the evening.
Although the kitchen is part visible, it’s more the washing-up area and plate drop off point than the theatre of the chefs you see, which is a shame.
The space is quite intimate, with soft candlelight a definite plus for a romantic meal or catch up with an old friend. It was the former for me, as I brought along my carnivorous better half to see what he made of the experience. We opted for the ten-course Taster Menu, priced at £55 per head.
The Allotment Vegan isn’t licensed but for a small £5 corkage fee you can bring your own which we quite liked. But it wasn’t our choice of wine we most enjoyed supping but their own gorgeous juice of the day, a sweet and almost perfumy watermelon juice, the likes of which I hadn’t tasted since I was on a beach in Thailand.
Salt baked beets in a balsamic gel with rosemary custard and confit crisp. A tasty little number to get our tastebuds going, the rosemary in the ‘custard’ was a subtle match for the sweet and sharp beetroot.
This was the absolute highlight of our meal today. Lightly pickled pineapple paired with crisp pineapple, puffed wild rice, wasabi cream, coriander, chilli and lime powder. Packed with Asian flavours, they didn’t hold back on the chilli. Refreshing and delightful with some great textures on the plate.
Soup of the Day
This was actually quite thick for what they termed a ‘broth’ of white onion and summer vegetable. Beautifully seasoned, and again with a bit of a kick, although we didn’t welcome the bursting burn-your-mouth baby tomatoes in there. We liked the charred corn bread mildly spiced with garam masala, less so the accompanying hummus style butter that tasted of neither. I would have loved some real actual butter with this bread. Sorry.
Radish & Mushroom
A very elegant mouthful of shitake mushrooms sautéed in a spicy peanut and coriander paste and wrapped in mooli radish, with a raw enoki mushroom, tamarind and peanut sauce. Lovely.
This was a dish of two halves. Layers of white wine poached pear in a blue cream ‘cheese’ and pickled walnut between thyme-seeded crackers just didn’t work well at all. The crackers were too crumbly, fell apart, and got soggy very quickly. The pear was grainy with little flavour. On the other hand, the Jersey Royals tossed in gremolata oil with gherkins and capers were a salty chip-like delight and would have made a smashing side for the next dish.
Aubergine & Shallot
I’d read they could make an aubergine taste better than steak in this, their signature dish of confit d’aubergines. Served with toasted shallot shells, baby carrots, celeriac, sweet aubergine puree, and thyme aioli, they pretty near backed up this claim. A thoroughly flavour-packed main course where we didn’t miss any meat.
Chargrilled nectarine with mango puree and chilli chocolate fudge crumble was a real palate cleanser of refreshing, spicy and sweet Mexican-like flavours. Our favourite sweet of the day.
Lemon & Blueberry Meringue
Not as successful, with some strange textures created by the chickpea brine ‘meringue’ and sticky lemon balm curd. Fresh and mulled blueberries were ok but nothing special.
Irish Cream Cannelloni
Most people in the restaurant were amazed by this very creamy dessert and how they managed to achieve it without any, well, cream. Ditto. We so enjoyed the Irish whiskey in the cream and the sorbet with the chocolate custard cannelloni, poached raspberries and white peach, although the coffee gel was a little overpowering and not really needed.
This was the dish we were most sceptical about. It turns out rightly so. Cultured nut cheeses of soy mozzarella, cashew brie and fermented macadamia just didn’t quite work in terms of texture or taste. They were also served with more of those crumbly falling apart crackers. Unfortunately, if you really love cheese like us, we fear this stuff just really won’t do.
So, a meal with no meat. Did we feel we had missed out? Not at all.
The Allotment Vegan was so interesting and intriguing that the entire evening felt like a really fun experiment. Some substitutes worked better than others and we felt the menu didn’t quite flow as it switched between Asian and British influences.
But there were some definite stand out courses we would love to return for – even my steak-obsessed husband. And surprisingly – unlike some tasting menus – we were so full afterwards I had to loosen my belt on the way home. Must have been all those vegetables.