Lots of new restaurants cause a buzz. But earlier this year, Mancunians showed they were willing to put their money where their mouths were.
Since opening in May, Kala has gone on to win over diners just like Gary’s other award-winning bistros across the north west have done: Hispi in Didsbury, Sticky Walnut in Chester, Burnt Truffle in Heswall, Pinion in Prescot and Wreckfish in Liverpool.
And this weekend, it had its first major review in the national press.
Gary’s restaurants “don’t serve ground-breaking food,” writes Jay in The Observer, noting that the chef is not attempting to leap boundaries or draw attention to himself through his deft cooking.
He’s just serving up the kind of “classy, appealing food you’d like to eat repeatedly, and at a reasonable price.” Which sounds pretty good to us. And to Jay.
The health of a restaurant culture is not defined by “a baby-handful of glittering temples to gastronomy flogging platefuls of overwrought ambition and memories,” the critic believes. Rather, it’s defined by places like Kala “quietly feeding you well.”
And what defines the cooking is the attention to the essentials, says Jay. A block of a “faultless” chicken liver parfait from the great value set menu arrives “pleasingly pink”. A big dollop of “snowy” burrata is equally welcome.
Onto mains, and the Observer critic is impressed by a “ridged and rugged” leg of crisp-skinned duck confit from the set lunch and early evening menu.
The accompanying sweet potato purée is “soft and velvety”, observes Jay, “a root vegetable transformed into an act of kindness and care.”
There is “a meaty puddle of what I should probably call gravy, this being Manchester,” he notes, and leaves of baby endive filled with vinaigrette and sprinkled with chopped chives.
It’s a plateful which both “makes sense, and is achingly pretty.”
He also admires a plate of torched fillets of plaice from the main menu which come with samphire, cubes of pickled cucumber, deep-fried vinegared anchovies, and a chervil sauce the “deep green of a field in winter.”
The sizeable chips, he notes, are “really just superb roasties”.
And when it comes to puddings, the dessert list “laughs in the face of summer,” writes Jay. “You’re in Manchester and here, they take the sweet end seriously.”
Like us, Jay loves the “brick” of glossy parkin with oats and ginger, cooled down by a scoop of crème Chantilly and a puddle of sweet, sticky butterscotch sauce.
We thoroughly agree, describing it in our review as “the kind of pudding you think about days later, wondering when you’ll get to have it again. It’s the perfect little pick-me-up, and unfailingly better-making.”
Jay also likes the “subtantial” choux bun, sliced open and filled with passion fruit cream and passion fruit sorbet, then “laid in a pond” of a caramelised white chocolate sauce.
After that, a double espresso is “medically required,” he admits.
And though there may not be a groundbreaking story, Jay is won over by the King Street bistro – and by Gary himself, who he describes as the kind of employer we need more of.
Gary opens “the restaurants that people want. He serves the kind of food people like to eat. And he’s good to his staff,” writes Jay.
And really, who could ask for more than that?