• Game changer? Reflections on the arrival of Gary Usher’s Kala

Game changer? Reflections on the arrival of Gary Usher’s Kala

2 May 2019 by Neil Sowerby

HERE at ToM we love wrapping our chops around a tender chunk of charred octopus and a starter along those lines (with pumpkin seed puree, salsa matcha and lime) was one of several treats at a preview lunch at Kala on King Street, which opens today (May 1).

It’s definitely on the launch menu at Gary Usher’s smartest bistro to date – crowdfunding cash well spent – so we couldn’t resist this Tweeted snapshot of his group exec chef getting to grips with preparing prime cephalod (below). 

Elite Bistros’ Richard Sharples learned his craft at Aumbry, a focused indie operation that helped put contemporary Manchester on the culinary map. Our briefest of encounters with Kala suggests this may be a game changer, too. 

You won’t turn up to concentrate on breathlessly intricate dishes in the manner of Mana or Tast Catala. At Kala they’ll dispense the kind of sophisticated comfort food that turns you into a regular. We’ve already intimated the 15 seater downstairs bar could soon be our city centre hang-out of choice but additionally there’s some seriously good cooking in the 55-cover mezzanine dining room.

Much of it is recognisable if you’ve ever eaten at Usher’s original venue, Sticky Walnut, Hispi nearer home in Didsbury, and his three other bistros. We greeted the braised featherblade steak (£23), with its inevitable posse of truffle and parmesan chips, like an old friend and were consoled for the absence of their signature custard tarts by an equally nursery delight, parkin accompanied by stem ginger ice cream in a sticky pool of butterscotch sauce (£6).

Already they are putting their first ever charcoal grill to good use and one beneficiary is a newcomer, barbecued monkfish (£26.50), given a meaty treatment of a classic BBQ sauce and a leftfield slaw of red cabbage, macadamia nuts and mango.

Service was hectic. Understandably given the hot ticket profile of this new kid on the Sixties brutalist block that is this former bank site designed by Sir Hugh Casson. His concrete legacy is decibel levels approaching a jet taking off. We exaggerate a bit but conversation was sometime a challenge upstairs; in contrast the bar is a perfect space to whisper as you people watch.

Kala is going to be busy, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week. The kitchen is headed by Jack Huxley, fresh from Sticky Walnut, where he went from chef de partie to head chef in just three years. 

Usher (above) is proud of Jack's progress: “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.”

The Kala Kickstarter was the most ambitious of Gary Usher’s crowdfunding campaigns to date. Breaking not only their own, but Kickstarter’s records, the team raised £100,000 in 11 hours, making it the fastest funded restaurant project in the world. 

There’s a swirling mandala like plaque commemorating all those financial contributors. Kala means black in Urdu, referencing a supporting column they uncovered on the site that resembles ‘black kryptonite’ (think Superman). The bistro/bar itself looks a dazzling addition to the the Manchester scene.

Kala, 55 King Street, Manchester, M2 4LQ. reservations@elitebistros.com, 0800 160 1811.