Stockport. Home of Blossoms, the Hat Museum, the iconic Stockport Plaza and Edgeley Park. It’s not necessarily the first place that would spring to mind when thinking about places to find great food and drink but over the last few years a few operators have been starting to put Stockport on the map.
We decided to take the 10 minute train from Manchester Piccadilly to Stockport (of which there are 243 a day) to explore some of the best places to eat in Stockport. There are of course plenty of brilliant places to eat across the borough of Stockport, but for the purposes of this article, we’re focusing soley on the town centre.
First up, we headed over to Where the Light Gets In, Stockport’s most widely acclaimed restaurant. Walking up into the airy space during the daytime, the chefs are preparing for that evening’s service. The open kitchen here takes the idea of cooking in front of guests to a whole new level, a couple of kitchen islands at one side of the room, without even a counter to separate chefs from diners.
There is an overwhelming feeling of calm in this beautiful space, where the light really does get in, or rather floods in, through large loft-style windows. There is exposed brick, natural wood floors, dried flowers and ears of corn hanging from large wooden beams, a wool rug with the sheep’s painted marker still visible and hand crafted ceramics on each table. If you ignore the tables laid for dinner and pots bubbling on the counter, it feels more like a yoga retreat than a restaurant kitchen.
On the shelves are large jars of unusual ingredients: kohlrabi kraut powder, fennel pollen, wild oregano and dried scallop. And out the back, balls of dough are being shaped, ready to be baked into fresh sourdough loaves.
So why did chef patron Sam Buckley choose to open his restaurant in Stockport? Well, according to head chef Samuel Munstermann, Buckley was looking all over for somewhere to open his new venue and was all set to open somewhere in London. It just so happened that he had a friend who owned a chandelier shop around the corner who told him about the space.
Munstermann tells us that more important than anything else for Buckley, was creating somewhere where people would want to work. A refreshing shift in priorities for an industry which hasn’t got the best reputation for employee wellbeing.
A sample menu for the restaurant featured a series of nine courses with dishes like; oyster with tomatillo and jalapeno; BBQ ray with preserved garlic, smoked tomato and bisque; and apple tart, whey caramel and sweetcorn ice cream.
If you are hoping to get a table at WTLGI, you’ll have to wait until next year as the earliest you can book right now is for January 2022, with a nine-course tasting menu costing £75 per person.
Where the Light Gets In is in the process of setting up a bakery called Yellow Hammer which will sell freshly baked bread. This was something they trialled at their lockdown convenience store ‘The Pickle Factory’ and the bread was always the first thing to sell out.
The loaves will be sold alongside chutneys, preserves, country wines and their own house-made cider which is made from apples brought in by local people. If you have an apple tree and are looking to pass on any surplus apples, you can give them to Where the Light Gets In who will turn them into cider and you’ll get a free bottle from next year’s batch. More details on that here.
The cider drive is part of the restaurant’s sustainable ethos, for which they received a green Michelin star for earlier this year. The award celebrates restaurants who lead the way in sustainable and ethical practices, for example by working directly with growers and producers, and also those who address the quality of life of their staff and contribute to charity and educational projects.
Out the back of the bakery will be a pottery studio run by local maker Joe Hartley who will create ceramics which will be used in the bakery and the restaurant, as well as to bottle the cider and there will be workshop opportunities in the space too.
Walking back towards the centre, we pass through the traditional Market Hall, a site which has operated as a market since the Middle Ages. There are the traditional traders you’d expect – grocers, fishmonger, butcher, cheesemonger, delicatessen – as well as small shops selling gifts, homewares and more, as well as four cafes.
There’s also a stall called Wine Boy selling natural, organic and minimal intervention wines, and craft beers which is open between 9:30am and 4:30pm.
Next up, we headed to Ate Days a Week, owned and run by Andy James. Ate Days a Week started as a ‘one-off’ pop up, pairing food and music. The plan was for these to be monthly events, but then lockdown happened. So, Andy decided to start making sandwiches for delivery while he couldn’t host any events.
“I was bored. It was maybe the second week of lockdown, that’s how early the boredom set in,” says Andy. “There’s only so many nights you can get pissed,” he laughs.
Andy was then working in Edinburgh Castle and has worked on the food offering for various places around Manchester including Bunny Jacksons, Cane and Grain and Dog Bowl, as well as opening sites for Hard Rock Cafe.
He started messaging mates, who then messaged their mates and soon he was delivering 50 sandwiches each Saturday lunchtime.
The initial idea was to take a sandwich and make it into a meal, rather than just a filling in between two slices of bread and the original idea of pairing music with food has stuck, with each of the names of the dishes having a musical twist. Current sandwiches on the menu include Great Balls of Fire (A brioche sub roll filled with beef, pork & n’duja meatballs) and Phil Me In (their take on a Philly cheese steak sandwich).
Alongside the sandwiches, Ate Days a Week also offers a selection of pies and fish and chips. This addition was mainly due to the fact that the site they are currently in used to be a chippy and so had all the equipment to make fish, chips and pies.
Their pie selection changes every couple of weeks and when we visited the choice was between Braised ox cheek, parmesan and potato, Chicken Balti or Wild mushroom and sweet potato. And, their ox cheek pie just won Silver at the British Pie Awards.
Any of the pies can be turned into (I Just) Died in Your Barm, which – you guessed it – means it gets put in between two halves of a barm a la Wigan Kebab and topped with minty mushy peas and served with a side of gravy to pour on top. It’s absolutely glorious – a warm crusty pie, the soft barm, the freshness of the peas and proper thick, rich gravy.
As well as Ate Days a Week downstairs, Andy also runs a bar called Notion upstairs, Stockport’s only dive bar with flaming cocktails and a large range of rum.
There are neon lights, the walls are covered in graffiti tags and stickers and the toilets are decorated with pictures of the heads of ‘Boris’ and ‘Maggie’ on spikes. “That’s one thing that Stockport wasn’t ready for, it’s me. If you’re offended by Tories on spikes then you shouldn’t be in here.”
For dinner we head to Baekdu, a traditional Korean barbecue restaurant located a short walk from the centre. The building looks like it once used to be a house, and inside the restaurant does have a homely feel.
Each of the tables has a bronze extractor hanging overhead, with a long extendable tube reaching up to the ceiling. In the centre is a metal cover, which is removed to place hot coals and a grill over the top for the table BBQ.
We go for the Chadoi-bagi (thinly sliced beef brisket), Dwaeji-bulgogi (spicy marinated sliced pork), Dak-galbi (spicy marinated chicken) and – after much debate amongst the group – the Ox Tongue.
If you’re worried about the prospect of barbecuing your own dinner, then don’t worry as the staff at Baekdu actually do the cooking for you. Flitting between the tables turning meat, in between taking orders, delivering drinks and other dishes.
The BBQ comes with large lettuce leaves to wrap the grilled meats. The menu recommends a lettuce and spring onion salad to go with the table BBQ and may I also reconfirm that recommendation. The shredded salad has been tossed in a dressing of sesame, soy, gochujaru and a little sugar. It’s salty, sweet, spicy and very, very moreish.
I’m a big fan of Korean restaurants, but this is the first time I’ve had the Korean table BBQ experience. And you know what? I’m now a big fan of Korean BBQ too. There’s so much going on at once and I just love concocting a different little mouthful each time.
Alongside the barbecue meats, we also ordered the Kimchi Pancake, Jabche (Pan-fried vermicelli with mixed vegetables) and Ddok-Bhokgi (sweet and spicy rice cakes). That last dish (also written as dukbokki, tteokbokki and ddeukbokki) is a personal favourite of mine.
I order it every time I get Korean, but the version at Baekdu has been my favourite so far. The rice cakes were soft and pillowy and the sauce was tangy, thick and rich with spicy gochujang paste.
We also order the mackerel which comes butterflied and grilled so it’s crispy yet juicy and flakes easily from the bone.
We couldn’t talk about food in Stockport without a big mention for Stockport Foodie Friday which takes place on the last Friday of every month. So, I came back to Stockport for their latest event which completely transforms Stockport town centre.
The event is centred around the traditional Market Hall, with street food traders lining the perimeter of the market and the square outside. The bars around the market allow visitors to grab some food from the traders and sit down on their tables. When we arrive just before 6pm (when the event officially starts), the bars are all already packed out.
I’m impressed by the number of traders here and also the amount of people that have come down for the evening on what’s been a pretty wet day. It’s properly buzzing.
Oh Mei Dumpling has been a regular here at Stockport Foodie Friday since she started her business and her dumplings are in high demand, with a queue of hungry punters (including us) already forming ahead of her stall in anticipation of the 6pm start. I’m told it’s like this every time and the queue continues until she runs out, so if you want to try Mei’s delicious dumplings, get there early and get in line.
I got the platter for £10 which includes your choice of six dumplings, as well as noodle rolls and slaw. We went for the pork and prawn sui mai, Chinese chicken curry and a seasonal pumpkin dumpling. They’re all delicious and very different to each other, but my favourite is definitely pork and prawn. The rice noodle rolls are a great surprise too, reminding me a little of the Korean dukbokki rice cakes.
I also ordered a Buffalo chicken grilled cheese from Northern Soul which is cooked on a custom-built grill in the boot of a car. Cheese, fried chicken, buffalo hot sauce, grilled until oozing, can’t argue with that.
Inside the market hall, it’s a hive of activity too. There are tables to sit with food and drink, a ukelele group playing and Corner Bar is serving draught beer, wine, spirits and other drinks. Wine Boy is open for the occasion serving natural and organic wines by the glass and the bottle, as well as craft beers. The cheesemonger’s fridge counter is filled with booze alongside the usual wedges of cheese, as is the fishmonger’s who are serving fresh oysters and sushi.
A good few of the market traders have stayed open for the occasion too and I even managed to pick up an early Christmas present.
It’s fair to say that Foodie Friday has been a huge success and is an important calendar date for Stockport. What they’ve started here is truly impressive and shows strong sense of community here, the local appetite for dining out and the decent range of local businesses who are willing to feed it.
This feels like just the beginning for Stockport. It’s already worth a day trip out to check out some of the restaurants there but over the next few years, I imagine we’ll see lots more places popping up around the centre.