Restaurant reviews - The Stolen Lamb, Wilmslow and No.4 Dine & Wine, Didsbury

The Stolen Lamb, a new Greek Cypriot restaurant in Wilmslow is not trying to recreate your last Greek holiday. Don't expect bouzoukis or plate-smashing REVIEW BY RAY KING Plus a mini review of No.4 Dine & Wine, Didsbury

The eastern Mediterranean – the Levant for want of a better word – has experienced a tumultuous history. And despite the cultural chasms evident across the region, from Greece, through Turkey to Lebanon and Armenia, there’s one major cultural facet that’s shared by all, including to some degree by the nations of north Africa too: their style of cooking.

My guess is that one unifying culinary factor was the influence of Ottoman rule over many centuries and of course the climate and vegetation in the dry Mediterranean terrain. But here’s a puzzle: of all the variations on this regional theme, why is it that Greek food has seemed to take itself least seriously? It seems to me that in many Greek restaurants, ritual plate smashing, bouzouki music and line dancing have been almost as important as what you eat. Never on a Sunday?....never in a month of Sundays!

There are, of course, always exceptions. In its heyday, Manchester’s Kosmos Taverna was a food guide ever-present. But then, like a lot of ‘Greek’ restaurants, Kosmos is actually Greek Cypriot. And so is Wilmslow’s Stolen Lamb, which, in the five months since it opened, has revelled in enthusiastic local acclaim.

Named after the signature dish of Cyprus – Kleftiko literally means ‘stolen lamb’ – the family-run restaurant occupies what I remember, many moons ago, was Harry’s Cantonese, a short-lived outpost of the famous Yang Sing group. When we climbed the stairs to the first floor restaurant, two things were immediately and refreshingly evident.

The decor in the split level dining areas is sensible and conservative rather than a garish attempt to recreate a holiday taverna and the atmosphere. One room features colourful abstract artwork, another a fascinating collection of black and white photographs of old Cyprus. And this being a very busy Saturday night, it was buzzing.

The menu tells an interesting story: both the paternal and maternal grandfathers of chef-proprietor George Yiannis – all incidentally called George – were famed for their lamb; one for raising the animals and the other for cooking his kleftiko in their respective home town of Famagusta and Kyrenia, ironically both now in the Turkish-controlled half of the island.

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Starters ranging from �5.75 to �8.95 and mains from �14.50 to �22.50 reflect the kitchen’s serious commitment to top quality ingredients, not least Cheshire lamb for that signature dish, and traditional cooking methods including wood-fired clay oven and coal-fired barbecue. In order to appreciate the broadest spectrum of what the Stolen Lamb does, we opted to share ‘Grandpa George’s’ mezze taster menu at �27.50 a head (there’s also a ‘leave it to chef George’ mezze for �35 a head – both for a minimum of two people). We were not disappointed by any facet of the cavalcade of courses that came our way.

After a complimentary platter of olives, aubergine dip and warm, char-grilled pitta, the starters proper were a delight and very attractively presented. Lovely griddled haloumi cheese came with a serving of hummous, exemplary dolmades – stuffed vine leaves – with cherry tomatoes and a delicious sauce and tender calamari in a paper-lined wire mesh fryer. The batter on the squid rings could have been a tad crunchier but they were nonetheless enjoyed.

Next came sliced loukaniko Greek pork and herb sausage served alongside prawn saganaki, plump seafood with tomato and oregano sauce topped with crumbled feta – delicious – then chicken souvlaki and ‘Grandpa’ stifado. The chicken kebabs were moist and tender with delicious barbecue and herb flavours; the cubes of slow-cooked beef served in a small saucepan melted in the mouth.

Alongside came a mound of excellent couscous ‘jewelled’ with fresh orange and topped with creamy yoghurt and a colourful Greek salad of rocket, feta and ripe cherry tomatoes with dobs of red pepper tapenade and tzatziki. Finally, the kleftiko, again meltingly tender through long, slow cooking, was served in an earthenware pot with perfectly textured – almost fondant – potato.

Well, not quite finally...a selection of honeyed Greek pastries with a bowl of lovely yoghurt rounded off a real treat; good value, too. We drank a zesty Australian chardonnay (�16.95) from a interesting list that does feature several Greek wines, a trio of which are featured on a commendable selection of house choices available by the glass.

Stolen Lamb Greek Restaurant & Wine Bar, 70a Grove Street, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 1DS.Tel: 01625 419571;

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No.4 Dine & Wine4 Warburton Street,Didsbury, Manchester.Tel 0161 445 0448

Style of venue This tardis-like restaurant on an almost hidden cobbled street has a gorgeous gift shop and an art gallery for neighbours. It’s slightly Bohemian Didsbury but without the hustle and bustle.

On the menu Modern British and more. Owners Paul and Nina Burton change the menu regularly and you can see - and taste - their commitment to quality local produce. Soup (butternut squash when we dined) was delightful and at �4.25 worth it for the superb homemade bread that came alongside. I enjoyed a starter of curried lamb samosa on a minted cucumber yoghurt sauce (�6.75). We also recommend the smoked salmon on warm potato cake with rocket leaves and chive creme fraiche (�7.25). Mains: you can’t go wrong with their hake fillet on patatas bravas with chorizo and herb oil (�15.95) or the slow roast free range belly pork, Bury black pudding with mash and grain mustard sauce (�14.95). Desserts are a dream here, (try their banofee pie) plus there’s a good selection of wines and champagne.

Decor Smart, understated decor that doesn’t shout - neutral walls merge with wood and touches of leather.

Ambience Calm and relaxed. It’s all very pleasant.

Service Efficient and friendly. Owners Nina and Paul Burton have it all under control.

Cost Our three-course dinner for two with wine and coffees came to �83. But there are special offer menus if you wish to keep the cost down.

Louise Allen-Taylor

Cheshire Life restaurant reviews are conducted ‘incognito’.We book and pay for meals as ordinary diners do so as to experience the same treatment as any member of the public. If we are ever guests of a hotel or restaurant, the review will mention that.

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