Following a crowdfunding initiative, Gary Usher’s King Street bistro Kala became the fastest restaurant project to reach £100k in Kickstarter’s history when it opened last year.
It went on to receive glowing reviews in The Sunday Times and The Observer, and quickly became the kind of place locals felt loyal about. Whether popping by for a quick drink at the bar or a full three-course dinner with friends, you always felt welcome.
We really felt Kala’s absence when it had to close its doors amid the pandemic, just a year after opening.
The Elite Bistros team, never ones to just sit back and take it, found a new way to keep going during lockdown with a rather brilliant home meal kit. We could now make the famed braised featherblade ourselves at home, with minimal effort.
But it’s not the same as going to the restaurants, of course. Which is why, when Elite Bistros – which also include Hispi in Didsbury, Sticky Walnut in Chester and Wreckfish in Liverpool – announced they were reopening on Friday 7th August, we booked in immediately.
The newly reopened Kala is doing everything right to make it feel safe: there are sanitisation stations dotted about, the staff are wearing sleek black branded masks, and the tables are well spaced, with large clear perspex screens between some of them.
It’s not off-putting, though, and it doesn’t feel clinical. The screens feel like they’ve always been there, they match the decor so well. The masks look like part of the uniform. The service is as friendly as ever.
Kala now requests a credit card number to hold your booking, and in the event of cancellation with less than 24 hours notice, a £10 per head cancellation fee will be charged against the card.
If it helps reduce ‘no shows’, it’s a move we welcome.
And a classic negroni (£9) is a reminder of everything we go to restaurants and bars for. It’s only three ingredients – gin, Campari, sweet vermouth – but it’s perfect. Cold and strong and bitter and sweet and refreshing all at once, it’s the ultimate summer aperitif.
Kala’s drinks menu is where diners will spot one of the key changes the restaurant has made. All the wines are now available by the glass. Which is great for diners – you can just try a small glass of something, or mix and match wines for each course, without committing to a full bottle. It keeps things flexible.
The other major change is to the food offering, where it’s now all about simple set menus.
It’s £19 for a two course set lunch (Weds -Sat), or £22 for three courses. Go for an early midweek dinner (Weds-Thurs before 7pm), and the same menu is £20/£23. There are three starters, three mains and three puddings to choose from, plus sides including the ever-popular truffle and parmesan chips (£4).
A new addition to the lunch menu includes a butter roasted pork ribeye, which we’ve already got our eye on for next time.
But we’re here for the new dinner menu. It’s two courses for £34, or three for £39. Soft, chewy, salty focaccia comes as standard, but you can add on Gordal olives or lardo with Valencian almonds and apricot if you want more snacks to go with a pre-dinner drink.
There would be an outcry if the chicken liver pate was taken off the menu – don’t worry, it’s still there – but we can’t resist a Vadouvan spiced cauliflower risotto, mellow, sweet and smoky topped with crunchy puffed wild rice.
The braised featherblade is still on the menu, too. But a new addition is a smoked and glazed ham hock, to share. And it’s an absolute belter.
The meat has been braised for eight hours so it happily slides off the bone. The miso glaze gives it the most stunning burnished coating as well as ramping up the intensely savoury flavour.
It’s served with choucroute, thick cut salt and vinegar chips and parsley sauce, and it’s surely going to be one of the most popular new additions.
If you’re not going out to restaurants just yet, or you just can’t wait to eat it again, it’s worth noting that the dish (with mash rather than chips) also now appears on the Elite Bistros At Home meal kit at £32 for two.
This is a potentially dangerous discovery, now we know how good it is.
And puddings are no afterthought, either.
A blackberry pavlova sees a fluffy cloud of meringue, soft and incredibly light, filled with plump sweet blackberries, cream and a smooth blackberry sorbet.
‘Chocolate oblivion’ is a rich, fudgy flourless chocolate cake with retro mint choc-chip ice cream, and the richest, glossiest dark chocolate sauce.
It may only be their first day back open, but everything is so slick and friendly and confident it almost seems like it never went away.
Welcome back, Kala. We missed you.