The latest addition to Gary Usher's restaurant empire offers comfort food tailored to the locals. Lauren Bowes reports
After spending three years distressing grammar pedants, Elite Bistro's of the World lost its errant apostrophe and rebranded as Elite Bistros. The new name coincided with the birth of the youngest member of the family, Kala, on Manchester's King Street, which opened in May after a last-minute crowdfunding campaign to finance the final stages of renovation. Raising £100,000 within 11 hours, the project was the world's fastest restaurant crowdfunding campaign.
Kala is fronted by huge double-height windows, through which passers-by can view the chefs at the pastry section in action. Spacious bar seating for 10 is available downstairs by the entrance, while the 65-cover restaurant, with emerald-green banquettes and prints by local artist Chris Cyprus, continues upstairs.
The sophisticated interiors are in keeping with the website's assertion that, in terms of its similarities with the rest of the Elite Bistros family: "While [Kala] will still be serving our classic bistro food without the pretence, its [sic] a bit more grown up." But chef-restaurateur Gary Usher laughs at this: "I think the PR wrote that. It's no different – it's the same. It's just a really friendly, relaxed bistro. We just serve really simple food, cooked the best that we can, with really friendly, knowledgeable, not-in-your-face guys in the front."
The "not-in-your-face guys" are husband-and-wife team Sean Riley and Katy Mills, who both joined from Liverpool's Wreckfish. The connection to the other Elite Bistros is strengthened by head chef Jack Huxley, who spent three years at Sticky Walnut in Chester.
One dish that Huxley has brought with him, and which is featured on all of Elite Bistros' menus, is braised featherblade, caramelised carrot, pickled walnut and truffle Parmesan chips (£23) (pictured top). One of Usher's creations from the first days of Sticky Walnut, the short rib is braised slowly like a daube, glazed in sauce and served with a shallot purée. Usher explains: "It's a great dish for anybody coming to the restaurant who is a bit intimidated. It's still a bit fancy, but it could just say beef and chips. It's a good barrier-breaker."
A lunch and early dinner set menu is available, priced at £20 for two courses and £23 for three. While this offers value, some creative thinking is required from the kitchen to make the dishes work at this price. On offer when The Caterer visits is a main of torched bream fillet, red cabbage, mango, macadamia and barbecue sauce. The garnishes are lifted from a monkfish dish on the à la carte, which is priced at £30. The simple change of fish allows the dish to hit the menu's gross profit of 70%, while still offering something refined and delicious.
Usher credits Elite Bistros' executive chef Richard Sharples with the creation of the set menu's roast cauliflower dish. Butterbeans are soaked, braised and blended to a mash and topped with roasted cauliflower florets, a salted lemon and shallot dressing, toasted almonds, baked barley and fennel crisps. The dish is rich and flavourful despite the lack of butter, which is great both for vegans and gross profit.
Kala is no carbon copy of the other Elite Bistros, and one way in which it differs is its bar offering. "I want people to think of this place as a bar as well as a restaurant," says assistant manager Riley. "Wreckfish has a small bar, but you have to walk through the dining room to get to it. Here it's the first thing you see, so I want people to be sat there, having drinks."
As well as local beers and cocktails bespoke to Kala, there is a snack menu that has changed significantly since the restaurant's launch, with duck heart kebabs and pig's head sausage rolls replaced by tandoori chicken skewers and fish goujons with sauce gribiche.
Usher explains: "We'd been running the bar menu for a couple of weeks and no one was ordering them. So I thought, 'you know what, let's give people what they want'. But we're not sacrificing what we do for the worse; we're just working out better things within the realms of what we do."
When asked if Kala has a signature dish, Usher eventually decides on the banoffee choux bun (£10). A choux is topped with craquelin, its centre hollowed out and filled with banana, toffee and ice-cream before being sat in a bowl of salted caramel. He says: "If we took it off the menu now I think people would ask 'where's the fucking choux bun gone?'"
From the menu
- Chicken liver pté, farmhouse chutney, toasted sourdough £9
- Salad of summer courgette, smoked apple, walnut, smoked cod's roe £7.50
- Roasted octopus, sunflower seed purée, salsa matcha, lime £14
- Smoked duck breast, confit tomatoes, lovage, duck fat croutons £23
- Potato gnocchi, braised leeks, pickled shimeji, truffled egg yolk, butter sauce £18
- Pan-roast sirloin on the bone, Lincolnshire Poacher leek mornay, tenderstem broccoli, for two to share £70
- Crème brûlée £7
- Dark chocolate tart, malt cream, whisky sultanas £9
Kala, 55 King Street, Manchester M3 4LQwww.kalabistro.co.uk
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