One bane of a food writer’s life is reviewing a restaurant only to discover post haste that the menu’s about to change. Big time. Fortunately when I wrote up a September visit to Kala in Manchester my focus was on the glories of their featherblade steak, a signature dish across all the Elite Bistros group.
This perennial stalwart remains on the new Autumn Menu, along with the obligatory truffle and parmesan chips, but there’s a whole raft of new dishes. I was alerted to their arrival by a chance meeting at a wine tasting of an old sommelier friend, who works out of Hispi, Kala’s sister restaurant in Didsbury. He was raving about a dish just created by Elite exec chef Richard Sharples – a spiced field mushroom doughnut with sesame creamed spinach and caramelised celeriac gravy.
Solid reason to swiftly revisit Kala. It felt like fate when an invitation to sample the new menu suddenly dropped in my inbox. The doughnut turned out to be terrific, but the surprise package – and what a package – was the whole stuffed guinea fowl to share. OK, we were gannets to order both this and the surprisingly substantial doughnut as mains, ‘Mais nous ne regrettons rien’ as they say in Montparnasse or Montpellier.
Indeed there was something quintessential French bistro about this bird (let’s call it Le Pintade), while the fennel and apricot stuffing summoned up all our Christmases coming early. Better early than never with the current prophecies of festive dearth this year.
Our bird, encrusted with fennel and caraway seed, the moist stuffing lubricating the legs, came boned and ready to slice, a pool of pickled pear puree a neat enhancement for its succulent interior. I couldn’t resist ordering the chips, but the bowl of the most delicate sauerkraut would have sufficed as a side.
We’d preceded the guinea fowl with that doughnut, its stretchy carapace harbouring a teeming interior of braised fungi. Did it count as vegan? Jury’s out on the earthy creamed spinach, but the celeriac gravy was an inspired plant-based conceit.
Since the return to comparative dining room normality Elite Bistros boss Gary Usher has given his six venues leeway to branch out from the standard group menu, particularly with changing fish of the day picks. At Kala that Wednesday it was a choice of grilled whole plaice or pan-fried stone bass.
My starter came from the fish specials because I’m a sucker for octopus and I was curious about how Kala’s daring combo would work, pitting the flamed cephalod against equally charred smoked corn and pickled currants. Maybe a red currant hot sauce gilded the piquant lily too much, but it’s typical of a hugely to be trusted menu that is still not afraid to push bistro boundaries.
An unqualified success was my partner’s starter, even if her initial qualm was: doughnut and dumpling in the same lunch? Fear unfounded. The dumpling was a light, gnudi-like pillow of great delicacy, as beautiful to look at as it was to eat, topped with grated Killeen cheese, all nutty and floral, a cauliflower puree base dotted with blobs of lemon and chive oils plus pickled shallot.
We finished off with Chocolate ‘Oblivion’ and poached pear with Sauternes jelly, the former with mint choc chip ice cream, the latter with walnut praline ice. Comforting autumnal bistro staples both. Wines by the glass had been appropriate for each dish and special mention for the Delicioso ‘En Rama’ Manzanilla that got us off to the perfect start, partnering Gordal olives and Don Bocarte anchovies. Isn’t autumn really rather wonderful?
Kala, 55 King Street, Manchester, M2 4LQ. 0161 839 3030. Reservations 0800 160 1811. The three course menu costs £40 for three courses, £35 for two. There’s a £16 supplement for that guinea fowl. There’s a limited choice bistro set meal available lunch and early evening.