Lots of new restaurants generate a buzz around their launch, but some go further than that.
Mancunians showed they were willing to put their money where their mouths were in March when, following a crowdfunding initiative, Gary Usher’s Kala became the fastest restaurant project to reach £100k in Kickstarter’s history.
Gary is known for his award-winning eateries including Hispi in Didsbury, Sticky Walnut in Chester, Burnt Truffle in Heswall, Pinion in Prescot and Wreckfish in Liverpool.
Officially opening on Wednesday 1st May, Kala is a 55-cover restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week.
So what’s it like inside?
Initial impressions are warm and welcoming, partly due to the friendly front of house staff, and partly the handsome decor, with huge windows throwing light onto a wood-topped bar and pastry pass, which has space for up to 10 diners to perch on the high grey stools.
A striking concrete staircase leads from the bar to the main dining area on a mezzanine level, decked out with dark green banquette seating and an open kitchen with a charcoal grill at the back.
The kitchen is headed by Jack Huxley, who joins the team from Sticky Walnut, where he progressed from chef de partie to head chef in just three years.
“We’re really proud to have Jack on board for Kala,” says Gary.
“He’s worked with us for a number of years and after recognising his passion and talent at Sticky, we wanted to give him the next challenge.
“From keeping it in the family, it means there’s a really high level of consistency across all the restaurants, so we’re starting as we mean to go on here in Manchester.”
And there is indeed consistency, right from the off – not least because Kala offers some of the dishes that will be familiar to diners who have visited the other bistros in the group.
Our starter of chicken liver pâté (£9) comes with rhubarb and cider chutney and a thick slab of perfectly toasted milk loaf.
It’s a variation on a dish available at the other restaurants. At Hispi it comes with grape and pear chutney and toasted rye. At Burnt Truffle with farmhouse chutney and focaccia. The pâté has the same pleasingly smooth texture, rich and silky and lighter than expected.
Hulk-green Wye Valley asparagus (£10), firm and tender, is served with a chunky sauce gribiche made with eggs and green herbs and enlivened by sharp pickles and salty capers. It’s flawless.
On to mains, and braised featherblade with truffle and parmesan chips (£23) is a welcome sight. It’s another dish that makes an appearance across the bistros.
The meat is slow-cooked and fall-apart tender, drenched in a glossy rich gravy. The chips are proudly fat, crisp and golden, the earthy truffle and intensely savoury parmesan ramping up the flavour.
A handful of peppery watercress cuts through the richness admirably.
A new dish is barbecued monkfish cooked on the charcoal grill (£26.50), served with a slaw of shredded red cabbage, mango and crunchy macadamia nuts and a sweet, smoky and slightly hot BBQ sauce.
Firm and meaty, similar in texture to lobster, the fish stands up well to the barbecue treatment and takes on an appealing char.
Light and summery but with a lingering, layered depth, this dish is an absolute joy.
Then come the puddings. Our love of Hispi’s famed custard tart knows no bounds, but sadly it’s not on Kala’s menu. There are, however, some real treats for those with a sweet tooth.
Sticky northern ginger cake parkin (£6), served with stem ginger ice cream and the sweetest butterscotch sauce, tastes of Bonfire Night.
It’s the kind of pudding you think about days later, wondering when you’ll get to have it again.
Are we allowed to just come in and order that and a coffee sometimes, we wonder? It’s the perfect little pick-me-up, and unfailingly better-making.
And a banoffee choux bun (£10) filled with whipped cream is comforting and indulgent as well as being a showstopper. Chances are you’ve already seen this beauty gracing Instagram and no wonder.
A set menu offering two courses for £20 and three for £23 will also be available at lunchtimes (from midday until 2.30pm) from Monday to Saturday, and for early dinner (from 6pm to 7pm) on Monday to Thursday.
Dishes include barbecued sprouting broccoli with pumpkin seed puree, salsa macha and lime; pan roasted chicken breast with vadouvan spiced hispi, crispy onions and lime pickle; and stem ginger semifreddo with chocolate sauce and brandy snap – as well as that parkin, served with chantilly cream.
More casual still is the bar menu, making full use of the charcoal grill with unusual bites such as chargrilled duck hearts and green sauce (£5.50) as well as pigs head sausage rolls with spicy ketchup (£6.50) or rock oysters with pickled shallot and lemon oil (£3.50).
What a start for Kala. It’s already making an impression – and it looks like getting better and better.