Tag Archives: sticky walnut

Hispi – Didsbury, Manchester

“There cant be many better bistros in Didsbury named after a cabbage?”

Im probably a bit late. Gary Usher’s latest, crowdfunded eatery blistered onto the scene a few months back. Every dish has been ‘socially media’d’ and all the big reviewers (well the paying ones)! have been and gone. Glowing trails of foodie prose lies in their wake. We all loved ‘Sticky’ and ‘Burnt’ (click to read how much) and so it was expected that Hispi would follow suit.


We romped in on a cold Sunday afternoon. We had booked, you have to it would seem. The place was packed when we got in. Set moments from the centre of Didsbury Village it cuts a startling dash in its boxy, sagey green exterior.

We were met enthusiastically and set into the lower room. The other two or three rooms move upwards a bit, one gets set in the roof. Decor is smart and uncluttered. Walls are either clean exposed brick or super smooth off white paint. Various shades of contemporary wood fill in the rest. The big crowdfunders get their own mirror. Nice touch.


Our Sunday menu was printed (as ever) on one side of an A4 sheet. Three courses for £22, two for £18. You get four choices of start and dessert with five go’s at a main. As ever I could have had any. The Flame as ever, struggled a bit! The menus vary slightly depending on time of day, there’s an early doors menu and an evening dinner menu. It probably goes without saying that they then vary seasonally.


For start The Flame edged into the Squash soup with curry oil, yoghurt and rye bread, though she requested that chef left out the curry. It turned out rather good. Velvety, hot and super tasty, she loved it. I went for the charred mackerel, Jerusalem artichoke, lemon tapenade and parsley. Im not too sure I got all that but it was presented rather nicely and the mackerel itself, with a touch of all the trimmings on each forkful, provided a good few mouthfuls of delight.

It was then a rather over long wait for the mains, as I said they were busy. I had selected my new favourite fish, pan roast skate wing, mace butter, saffron potatoes and spinach. The only downside was that i could have had about four wings rather than the one. The golden spuds were delish too.


The Flame having furrowed her brow at the choice, mentioned in passing that she loves chicken! She ordered the beef, only for Ashley, our super waitress, to inform us that chef could rustle up a turkey dinner. The Flame was in raptures, and even more so when it turned up. A glorious chunk of moist, yes moist turkey, with a sausage meat patty and cranberry topping. Lovely jubbly.

We then had the cheese course, a Beenleigh blue, with rye crackers and chutney and a whipped fromage blanc with pear, meringue and almonds. The dessert whilst not looking too great and being over simple was actually flipping gorgeous, just up my street. Perhaps it may have looked a bit better in a dark bowl, but hey Im being super churlish here.


All in all another great little outing at an Usher gaff and get this…ahem…the ‘cookery’ is always ‘on point’ (whose been watching Masterchef? – Ed) and always well presented using great local produce. The DNA set by owner Gary Usher washes through the place. As if to emphasise, we were wonderfully served by Gareth and the ever bubbly Ashley. Both bright and confident with the right tinge of humour.

As the late AA Gill commented, something along the lines of “Your local restaurant should be treasured, use it, cherish it and it will pay you back in spades”. Didsbury has been dealt a good hand with this smart little bistro. I reckon every town and village should have one. Maybe the city’s should have one too, perhaps even Liverpool? Think it should be called ‘Wreckfish’…..watch this space.

1C School Lane
Didsbury Village
M20 6RD.
Tel: 0161 445 3996

Burnt Truffle – Heswall, Wirral

“It’s above average so I reckon you should go”

The Flame and I finally kick-started our way over to the rather quaint little hamlet of Heswall on the Wirral.  Previously known as golfing territory for the scouse footballing hierarchy but now known as the locale of Head Chef, Gary Usher’s latest bistroette ‘Burnt Truffle’. Burnt is the younger sister of the now infamous ‘Sticky Walnut’ of Hoole (reviewed here). Burnt also has some significant media history in that it bagged hundred grands worth of Kickstarter crowdfunding in record time.


We were greeted by young Emma one of several, very pleasant, aproned up helpers and whisked up stairs to our blonde table for two. I was mildly disappointed* that the red Formica topped tables; a relic from a previous eatery had been jettisoned! It was all dead smart now. On trend chalky blue walls and soft comfy seats.


As I had already stumped up a fifty note pledge to get the gaff up and running we presented our voucher. This quickly turned into two glasses of very welcome fizz. A cracking start. Seconds later, oil soaked sourdough with truffle infused butter. Oh my lord. The Sunday lunch menu running from 12 – 2.30 was up next. Just up my street. Single sheet of crisp A4. Four starters, four mains, four desserts and some trimmings. £18 for two of ‘em, £22 for three. Boom, what else do you need?


The two starts were superb. Flamed mozzarella with beetroot, raisin and pine nut dressing. I’ve never had flamed cheese before but it needs to be had again. Looked pretty as a picture too, unlike my image which is blurred!

I had the sea bream, pickled mooli, with samphire, courgette and basil. What a stunning little offering this was. The flavours were still resonant** hours later. Never a fan of pickles but I’m getting there, and when placed with the hot fish it was indeed a thing of real beauty.


I went fairly trad for the main. Roast beef, carrot puree, green beans, red cabbage, spuds and Yorkshire coupled with a side of honey roasted carrots. Beef pink, veg hot and seasoned, carrots historic. Perfection.

The flame loves chicken and endlessly complains when it’s not on as a choice. Here it’s done many ways. Moussed and truffled, poached and rolled, with pancetta, fat potato, shitake mushroom and caramelised onion. I managed to purloin the odd forkful before it was eagerly devoured. Total ‘chickeny’ heaven.

Chicken, roast beef, carrots and a jokey truffle!

Sweetie bits to finish, and it’s all as good as the first two. Orange and almond sponge with butterscotch and quenelle of crème fraiche. Topped with fruit The Flame was in raptures. Piping hot, moist, sweet, sticky, you name it, it was all here. I had one of my favourite sweetie bits of all time, lemon curd with blackberry and apple. It came in a freezing glass complete with a cigar of marshmallow, crisps of coconut meringue and a few other ‘textury’ bits. All totally historic.


Couple of strong, dark coffees and we were done. Three sublime courses, all perfection. Another aspect we both felt was just right, was portion size. Morsels of quality rather than quantity. We were pleasantly satsiated as we biffed off for a pleasant stroll down nearby Parkgate prom. And its look out Chorlton, latest sibling Hispi is waiting in the wings. Eyes peeled to help get this one going.


So if it’s Burnt, Sticky or gone a bit Hispi you can’t go wrong. This Usher chap and his team have got the bistro business sorted. Get there pronto.

*I wasn’t really
**Nicked from Marina O’Loughlin


Burnt Truffle
CH60 0AQ

0151 342 1111


Sticky Walnut – Chester

“It was well above average”

A curious statement you may think. But in the world of Sticky Walnut average is a by word for social media stardom. It harks to a particular twitter feed whereby a disgruntled punter ‘Trip Advisored’ that SW had served up an ‘average’ meal. Gary Usher, head chef and owner vented his angered humour on the poor chump, to the hilarity of his many followers. The rise of Sticky Walnut was assured. Foodies flocked to sample the average offering.


However, as we all know, it’s been more than average. A restaurant cannot function on media savvy tweets alone. It needs to back it up with decent grub. The accolades have poured in. Local interest quickly morphed into National interest culminating in a prestigious ‘AA Restaurant of The Year’ for 2013/14. It’s been on my list ever since.

Last Saturday I managed to bag a six o clock table for The Flame and me. Given the heady, after dark mileage the fabled fifty fifty driving scheme (I drive there, the flame drives back) turned to a one hundred to me. This meant I couldn’t sample some of the craft ales that were offered on arrival. A full cooking, coke had to hold my attention.

We parked on the street. The place is settled on a narrow one way thoroughfare in Hoole. Hoole itself, is a small enclave on the outskirts of Chester. The restaurant is effectively a single shop width on two floors. It has a simple, freshly painted frontage. The glowing indoor lights cast a welcoming glow through the large window onto the cold, sleet laden street. We were glad to get in and set up on our quaint, street level table. We were the first in and spent a few minutes probing the impressive range of cookery books next to our table. I had quite a few of them!

The  welcoming interior
The welcoming interior

I could count maybe twelve staff including the chefs. They were all beavering away. It looked an impressive well oiled machine. As the kitchen was on a lower level than the dining bit, it was a bit strange watching the twitter stars heads popping up above the servery. FOH kept us well informed and we soon ordered from the single sheet menu.

First up, a bit of bread. I say bit of bread. What arrived was half a dozen sections of arguably the best focaccia I’ve ever had. Evocatively soaked in the finest olive oil and crusted with rosemary, thyme and the finest sea salt. I could have simply ate a few courses of this and gone away happy.

The menu, stunning bread and calves brains
The menu, stunning bread and calves brains

Next up the starters. The Flame went for the oven roasted beets with spicy pumpkin seeds, ricotta and sticky walnuts (£6); I went for the port and rosemary risotto with deep fried calves’ brain (£7). Both dishes epitomised the time honoured aim of applying tastes and textures that feature sweet, sour, smooth and crunch. My brains were smooth and rich, but quenched perfectly by a slurry of crimson, acidic, sweet rice. Stunning. The Flame loved the ricotta and the sticky, sweet, crunchy walnuts.

Lamb neck, hake, truffle and parmesan chips
Lamb neck, hake, truffle and parmesan chips

For mains I had the braised lamb neck, treviso, balsamic raisins and onion puree (£18). I don’t think I’ve ever had lamb like this. Simply resting my fork on top brought the soft pink flesh away from its clump. Washed in the jus and purees and mingled with sweet raisins it was exquisite. The Flame had butter soaked hake, kale, fennel with lemon and brown shrimps (£17) accompanied by truffle and parmesan chips (£3). I managed a fork full of the thick, fishy hake. A perfect specimen. The flame loved it. If I was being picky I would have preferred the crispy but soft inside, hot chips to have arrived without the truffle and parmesan. The Flame loved them though, so who am I?

Trifle, beets starter, cheese board
Trifle, beets starter, cheese board

I finished with the rhubarb trifle with sherry cream and almond crumble (£6). It didn’t look too special in fairness but the boozy cream and the sweet rhubarb soon ensured it was amongst the very best I’d had. The Flame had a super cheese board (£7), with homemade bread and chutney, each cheese passionately described by the highly efficient Adam. Two coffees finished and we waltzed off into the cold night.

We were £75 lighter for an hour and a half’s usage of the table. We both concluded it was a super meal and that we would be back. The idea next time would be to arrive by train in the daytime, have a stroll round Chester and make more of a day of it. We could either have lunch or an early tea again. Either way we’ll be able to sample the wine and the beer as well next time.

It definitely wasn’t average. It is much more than that.

Sticky Walnut
11 Charles Street

01244 400400