His & Hers first met Gary Usher, back in the day, after he launched a modest bistro in Hoole, Cheshire, called Sticky Walnut. He had little spending money, working in a space he wanted to transform, but he could not afford to splash the cash. It proved a great success, but it might have gone un-recognised further afield than the Chester area, if he had not picked up some great reviews. The quality of the food meant he began to be featured in foodie magazines, and gain a reputation for delivering classic French cuisine. His signature dish probably still is feather-blade, shoulder blade of beef, gently and lovingly slow-cooked to perfection. He formed Elite and has taken his classic cuisine further afield.
WORDS: Jean Hill
We met up with Gary Usher again, as he was about to launch Wreckfish in Liverpool. He had chosen a building that was truly imposing, yet had remained empty for years. He still could not afford to splash the cash, but he had figured out a remedy for that. He raised what he needed to renovate and refashion this vast space, through crowd-funding. I suspect he was the first chef to grasp the potential of a Kickstarter campaign. He believed contributors got the restaurant or bistro that they desired. The restaurant that emerged just took the breath away. Gorgeous design, state of the art kitchen centre stage, and seemingly never ending, interesting spaces and a dazzling, very well stocked bar. And the food did not disappoint. His chefs will talk knowledgeably about French cheeses, or Prosciutto di Parma and know how to source the best produce. And prepare confit duck that tastes divine. Classic crème Brulée can often be found on the menu, which makes me a happy bunny: no reason to mess with perfection. Gary Usher obviously likes a challenge. He went on to transform a garish Bet Fred shop, in a run-down area, into a class act of a bistro with a stellar interior and a fabulous chandelier, a stunning feature that sets the tone. He thought Prescot deserved fine dining, and you cannot argue with that. Over the years Gary Usher has had a love affair with great food, so where better to spend Valentine’s Day than one of Elite’s bistros.
Wreckfish , Sticky Walnut, Kala and Pinion are offering 5-course menus that are full of delicious dishes made from the finest ingredients. The dining experience costs £60 per person and features a range of romantic sharing plates. Couples might also be gazing, soulfully, into each other’s eyes, but that would be an optional extra.
Valentine’s at Wreckfish, Liverpool
The choices are glorious. For starters there are: pastrami cured salmon, dill pickled cucumber, radish, and crème fraiche. Or opt for Cauliflower risotto, aged Gouda, tarragon sauce or Satay quail, confit leg spring roll, and mango pickle.
Mains range from lamb rump, to pan-roast cod, or whole Merrifield duck, confit leg, plum tarte Tatin, and Madeira sauce. Amongst the dessert options are: Banoffee and caramelised white chocolate baked Alaska (for two to share) And if there was any room left after dessert there is still clotted cream fudge to come.
Valentine’s at Kala, Manchester
You might want to begin with NV Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve (check for prices). You can choose from: salmon ‘bagel’, spiced cauliflower croquette, or lime pickle for initial snacking. For starters, there is much choice: cured sea bass, blackened apple purée, pickled rhubarb; or sorrel beef carpaccio, crispy polenta Manchego, piquillo pepper salsa and radicchio. Roasted butternut squash, cardamom yoghurt, sticky walnuts, mojo verde, crispy cavolo nero; it all sounds tempting. Then on to the main courses that include: Macadamia crusted cod loin, fennel orzo, pickled cockles and sea aster or pan-roasted lamb rump, black garlic, sautéed brassicas, and crispy sweetbread. Then try ribeye of beef, fat Yukon Gold potatoes, macaroni cheese, purple sprouting broccoli, and Bearnaise sauce. Sharing dishes require pre-order and a supplement is charged. Check menus on-line for details.
Sweets include: dark chocolate tart, rosewater ice cream, baked passion fruit cheesecake, lime and mint sorbet, steamed lemon sponge, cinnamon churros with dark chocolate and caramel sauce (designed for two to share). And to finish clotted cream and hazelnut fudge
Sticky Walnut and Pinion have sparkling menus, with their own variations on main themes. You can check out menus on-line. You need to book, and then cultivate your romantic best self.
Related read: The Unstoppable Gary Usher.