Restaurant review - Kala, Manchester
PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 June 2019
Maverick chef Gary Usher brings his game-changing dining concept to Manchester
Could Kala be Manchester's most exciting restaurant? It's the latest in the stable of winners from Gary Usher, the inspirational chef restaurateur thanks to a record crowdfunding campaign that raised £100,000 in just 11 hours and I love, love, love everything about it.
Usher has often been referred to as a rock star chef (he has a lot of tattoos) and he has a reputation as a straight-talker, especially when it comes to his blunt replies to comments on the internet, but it's the food and service that have made him a big hitter. He started out with Sticky Walnut in Hoole and Burnt Truffle in Heswall, Hispi in Didsbury, Wreckfish, Liverpool and Pinion in Prescott followed to laudable reviews but the latest neighbourhood-style incarnation is arguably a risk in a city where a new restaurant seems to open every week.
Kala is based on the upper part of King Street in a building once occupied by fashion chain Whistles, another symbol of how restaurants are replacing retail in the city. They're the new black, baby! But this is more than just a place to see and be seen. The crowdfunding thing makes it feel more like a family than anything else and who should we spot behind the very open kitchen but 'daddy' Gary himself.
Then there are the people who have made it all possible. Every so often someone is taken by a member of the hip looking young staff to the 'wall' where they can find their name among those of the hundreds of donors, honoured for their financial commitment on a beautiful wall plaque.
It's only day three of opening when we head there for lunch and although we might have expected a few teething problems, they are minimal. Tweaks to the online menu mainly, which are to be expected if you're cooking fresh and seasonal food.
Nibbles are up first and we are rewarded with a pillowy soft rosemary and thyme foccacia, £4 and sweet, fresh seasonal pickles, £4, while we drink a NV Charles Heisdseck Brut champagne £10 and a citrussy sweet, Pisco Sour.
We order from the set menu, exceptional value at £23 for three courses, a chicken liver pate so soft it's like butter, its richness cut through with rhubarb and cider chutney and served with a toasted brioche-esque milk loaf and a main of toasted sea bream fillet, accompanied by a sweet/sour pickled mound of red cabbage, mango and macadamia nuts. The dessert, a stem ginger semifreddo is like the best creamiest ice cream you've ever eaten, then transformed into pudding nirvana by the dark bitterness of the chocolate sauce which is poured over the top.
From the a la carte menu is a starter of calorific indulgence, a burrata served with sprouting broccoli and a blackened spring onion dressing that has the kind of pleasurable burnt taste you get when something is barbecued, there's a hint of citrus too, £8.50. The other main is a softly sweet Kholrabi on a slightly tongue tingling lovage sauce a poached hen's egg and crunchy rye. We also order truffle and parmesan chips, £4, which may be the best chips ever. Thick cut, lightly crisp, with a soft melting centre salty with parmesan cheese.
One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was 'never eat anything bigger than your head' but I almost did when our waiter brought along the banoffee choux bun with whipped cream, £10, a squidgy crisp affair filled with banana custard and cream. Absolutely divine and so huge I needed help from my other half to finish it. Strangely, he was up for this!
The wine list was impossible to ignore thanks to the fact so many are available by the glass. I adored the restaurant's recommendation for tipple of the week, a 2017, Pecorino bursting with peaches and lemons of Italy (from £4) and a 2017 Tsolikauri (from £5) an unusual white wine from Kakheti, Georgia that had a cloudiness and apple like taste of a chic scrumpy (if that isn't a contradiction).
There's so much to admire here, from the quality of the cooking the fact that it's not silly prices to service that's so attentive, the maitre d' knew exactly who we were. 'You're the ones who rang up earlier to say you'd be late because there was a cow on the line,' he said. There again it's not every day you get an excuse from the punters like that.
King Street, M2 7AT
0800 160 1811, kalabistro.co.uk