I read Marina O’Loughlins review of Where the Light gets in last summer and immediately put it on my must visit list, underlined twice. The only problem being that the restaurant is in Stockport, about and hour from Manchester and I mean this in the nicest possible way, there is very little else there to visit. Then, by some weird coincidence, my day job sent me to Stockport for a training day, paid for my train ticket and put me up in the Premier Inn for the night. Cue frantic last minute begging and pleading on the phone to the lovely restaurant who kindly managed to accommodate my solo booking. For a woman with a toddler at home, an expenses paid trip, even to Stockport, is a decadent vacation. I’ve never felt so jammy.
The restaurant is hidden. There’s no sign since the council had them remove it and no door handle, to this former coffee warehouse, which only serves 30 diners. I pushed on the door (without a handle) and couldn’t open it so I plodded back down to the cobbled street and stood befuddled. Luckily, Sam Buckley the owner and head chef let me in, complimented me on my dress, sat me down by the fire and handed me the most exciting cup of celeriac broth I’ve ever tasted in my life.
As I looked around sweatily, I realised the dining room and the kitchen are one and the same, hence the heat source/sweatiness. The chairs at each table face the kitchen like a theatre. The great chef dance to be observed as each plate in the tasting menu is assembled. The menu is focused on seasonal British produce and the restaurant works closely with many farms. Multigenerational farms with small teams who love what they do and do it with great care. The walls are lined high with preserves. This is the kind of place where they churn their own butter, a large jar of which, left within almost reaching distance from me, I was sorely tempted to nick.
It’s deeply refreshing in this time of Brexit crisis to be reminded that the quintessentially British person isn’t actually Jacob Rees Mogg, as we all might imagine, but Sam Buckley and his farm mates who are obsessed with heritage potatoes and growing rhubarb in the dark. Sam has a one year old daughter who spends roughly half her week crawling around the restaurant’s back rooms. This is Britain, this is British food and it is wonderful. Unlike Mogg, who has never changed a nappy of his any of his six children in their lives, guffawing about grand wizards at Chequers. I digress.
Similarly to restaurants like The Clove Club and The Ledbury, when you arrive at Where the Light gets in, you’ll get what you’re given (accepting any allergies) and an accompanying wine or soft drink pairing is an optional delight. The tasting menu is paid for in advance online when your booking is accepted and I lost count of the number of dishes I was served. Sam explained that the menu at this time of year is based around the hunger gap, a time when there is less produce available, grains and pulses which can be stored over the winter months are featured and potatoes, cabbage, broccoli and celeriac are in heavy rotation. The vast majority of the menu is vegetarian, yes, there’s an indecent sliver of pork with a dollop of fermented apple and bone broth (hold the bowl to your mouth and drink) and a skate wing with seaweed but much else is vegetable or grain. Exceptional vegetable and grain.
Annoyingly, I’m allergic to mussels, and oysters remain tentatively untested, so I skipped the oyster emulsion to start and was given Leek mayonnaise with cabbage crisp instead, the most delicate, lovely, pressed pieces of cabbage and the most powerfully Leeky thing I think I’ve ever tasted (in the best possible way). The heritage potato parfait, reminiscent of The Clove Club’s warm potato mousse but slightly more savoury. Things started to get very interesting once the cured goose egg, purple sprouting broccoli with vinaigrette and aerated goose egg arrived, in a nest. I’m avoiding booze at the moment but I couldn’t skip the black forest gateaux flavoured stout beer float with yeast ice cream. Ooft.
The service at Where the light gets in, is, as you would imagine, friendly, well informed and provided by very trendy young people. Each dish has a story to tell and as different members of the team present me with something new, they tell me the origin of each ingredient, the farm it’s come from, how it’s come to be, how they’ve made it the best it can be. I’m especially charmed by a junior server who reminds me of Kenneth from 30 Rock in his enthusiasm for a rhubarb dish which he explains with an excited grin, is grown in the dark and picked by candlelight to ensure maximum sweetness. The final bite of the meal, a single slice of this magic rhubarb, rolled in brown sugar, how it’s farmer who grows it, most prefers it to be served.
What’s good? Every. Single. Morsel. Lick the plate. A particular shout out to everything the pastry chef is involved in. Unbelievably good.
Kid friendly? Look, this is not a restaurant that was in any way designed to host children, there are stairs and it is quietish and everyone has dropped some cash to be there but Sam is a parent too and he takes his daughter everywhere with him so there is some flexibility if you’re absolutely desperate and your kid is well practised at fine dining/unconscious.