Let’s get it out of the way from the get-go: Where The Light Gets In serves the most exciting food I’ve had in years. And it’s not in London, Copenhagen or Portland, Oregon; it’s in Stockport. Never have I trudged so dutifully to a destination only to exit at the other end quite so starey-eyed and evangelical.
Stockport: seriously? Before high horses are clambered upon, chef/owner Sam Buckley is equally wry about the location. It is, simply, not where you’d expect this kind of firecracker creativity in £65-a-head, tasting-menu-only format. Stockport boasts restaurants called Elvis’ Kitchen (“three-course luxury meal cooked by the ELVIS chef”, which, if I’m honest, appeals hugely). And the town centre is not, well, edifying. But here, around the old market building, there’s a pleasing, brick-lined moodiness, the air scented with malt from the Robinsons brewery. Finding this former coffee warehouse proves tricky: we teeter down vertiginous Rostron Brow (“famous for its 19th-century alehouses of ill repute”) more than once before we find the entrance. So far, so Lowry. Inside, it’s a different matter, not so much open kitchen as a vast, lustworthy actual kitchen with Ercol tables dotted around. It’s the ultimate, wood-burning-stove-heated loft pad with rooftop views.
There’s no menu. You get what you’re given, depending on what’s good, what’s butchered, what’s hit peak fermentation, what’s foraged. We’re served 12 dishes if you include snacks and sweeties. I don’t have room to rhapsodise (also, it changes virtually daily), so a few highlights:
Fat, jolly little radishes, bathed in house-made quince vinegar with the lightest, creamiest cod’s roe and nettle dips ying-yanged beneath, all smoke and crunch and astringency.
Crab – sweet white meat laced with pungent brown and shards of apple – dolloped on a wood-charred savoy cabbage leaf for wrapping up like a tiny, green burrito of electrifying, smoky freshness.
Tartare of Macclesfield trout in a smoked whey broth (extraordinary) dotted with vivid herb oil. On the side, a grated dusting of the same trout, dried and cured, a Manc katsuobushi. It’s beautiful: massive, macho flavours getting on like old friends.
Salt-baked beets, toasted hazelnuts, jaggy little jack-by-the-hedge leaves – aka garlic mustard plant, with all the pungency that conveys – a swirl of jammy beetroot puree and a smooth blurt of airy hazelnut almost-butter. Vegetarian wizardry, this swayed even the table’s beetroot-loathers.
A meaty broth, as limpid as tea, with a powder puff of wild garlic blossom to dunk in it like a teabag. It scents the broth, the broth “cooks” the blossom: brilliant in its simplicity and insanely delicious.
A cube of pink middlewhite pork, aged for five weeks in caramelised cultured butter, its fat crisped in a pan (which is where the building’s lack of extraction becomes painfully evident). Nothing else on the plate bar a few fried, fragrant leaves, herbs and flowers (they say ramsons this time, possibly sleight of hand to deflect us from other wild garlic appearances). “This,” says charming GM Emma, “is the dish that made me hand in my CV.” I’m tempted to follow suit.
I haven’t room to wax lyrical about the wine flights, notable for the consistent delivery of pure pleasure (not a given with natural and biodynamic). There’s nothing that doesn’t dazzle, from the cocktail that comes with candy-striped bags of crisps and tins of create-your-own-flavour powder made from produce that would otherwise be wasted (dried scallop plus kombu: blimey), to the tiny pastilles with the coffee that flood the mouth with sweet, boozy Buckfast, that “tonic wine” beloved of the Glaswegian jakey. Oh, OK, there is one fish dish I don’t love, woolly and underseasoned, but otherwise this is a procession of brilliance.
This is not so much new Nordic as new northern. I’d put WTLGI up there with wonderful Norn in Edinburgh, Inver in Argyll, Lake Road Kitchen in Ambleside and, obviously, grandaddy of them all, L’Enclume in Cartmel (one of Buckley’s alma maters, not coincidentally). These are hugely invested, clever people working with what’s on their doorsteps, marrying frequently ancient techniques with startling innovation, but without resorting to spherifying or pipettes or crockery that looks like Rorschach blots.
Sure, WTLGI delivers the full Kinfolk checklist: intent, beardy tattooed men; cool-as-fermented-cucumber dames; an environment that makes you weep for the conventionality of other restaurants. It’ll no doubt cause dreary chuntering from those poor old sausages who are allergic to anything they deem “hipster”. Absolutely and comprehensively, that’s their loss. Is it worth hitting Stockport for? I’d cross continents for this one.
• Where The Light Gets In 7 Rostron Brow, Stockport, Greater Manchester, 0161-477 5744. Open dinner only, Weds-Sat, 6.30-10pm. Set price £65, plus drinks and service.
Value for money 9/10
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