Manchester Is Going Crazy for a Restaurant Named After a Cabbage

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Manchester Is Going Crazy for a Restaurant Named After a Cabbage

Hispi has become the city's most talked about opening. “My old head chef said, ‘Are you seriously going to call your fucking restaurant cabbage?’” says owner Gary Usher, who hopes the name reflects his unfussy approach to food.
November 3, 2016, 10:52am

More eateries now open in Manchester than in London. Everything from Michelin wannabes to concept chains are clamouring for Mancunians' attention. But one of the most talked about is a little place in a suburb south of the city. It's named after a cabbage.

"My old head chef said, 'Are you seriously going to call your fucking restaurant cabbage?'" owner Gary Usher tells me.

Turns out he was dead serious. Hispi, which opened in Didsbury in September, serves home-style food, uncomplicated but tasty. Kind of like its namesake, a type of white cabbage.

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The restaurant's signature dish is a simple braised beef.

"It's fucking beef and chips, what can you say?" Usher tells me. "You can't fancy it up, you can't make it look nice. But it's tasty. It's just a tasty, humble dish. In my opinion that's what a bistro should be about."

Usher isn't one to mince words (this is the chef who left a bad TripAdvisor review about his own restaurant, just to make a point). His direct, no-nonsense approach translates to the cooking: unfussy but big on flavour.

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Dishes at Sticky Walnut, chef Gary Usher's restaurant in Chester. All photos courtesy Sticky Walnut.

Take that beef dish. Hispi chefs braise a feather blade for up to eight hours in chicken stock and red wine, along with a mirepoix of onion, carrot, celery, leek, garlic, thyme, and rosemary. Then they make a sauce by putting the mirepoix in a huge pan with a load of chicken bones and leaving to simmer overnight. In the morning, the liquid is strained, then reduced with red wine until it's a rich, glossy sauce.

"We take the blade and put it in a pan of this sauce," Usher says. "Then literally someone stands there spooning the sauce over the meat, again and again, for 20 minutes. What happens is, as the sauce reduces, it's getting thicker and stickier. Every time you put it on, it's creating a layer. That's where the sticky, naughty dirtiness of it comes from."

READ MORE: This Chef Is Trolling TripAdvisor with Crazy Reviews of His Own Restaurant

It's served with twice-fried chips, shaken in truffle oil and Parmesan, and a purée of seasonal veg.

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"People love the beef and chips. Because it's comforting isn't it? It's not pretentious, and it's fucking tasty. You can't really go wrong with it."

Hispi is Usher's third restaurant. He also runs the popular Sticky Walnut in Chester and Burnt Truffle in the Wirral.

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"The ethos is exactly the same," he says over a plate of linguine with sage pesto and brown butter. "The thought behind the dishes is the same. Nothing's ever meant to be fancy, nothing's ever meant to be over complicated. If a dish has six elements in it then we'll say, 'OK, let's take two off.'"

The menu at Hispi was developed with head chef Rich Sharples, allowing for his style to meet Usher's. Dishes include pan roast cod loin with Jerusalem artichoke and cavolo nero, and Gressingham duck breast with young red onions and confit garlic. Bread is freshly baked on site.

The menu at Hispi is also seasonal, with dishes tweaked to reflect what's best at that time of year. A dish that had raspberries and strawberries on it in summer will feature blackberries in autumn. Asparagus gets replaced when it's no longer available.

Usher tells me the puddings go down particularly well, especially the Eccles cake and custard tart. His favourite is a fromage blanc with blackberries, flaked almonds, and meringue.

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"It's so simple and light. A lot of our food's really rich and heavy."

It's not just Usher's cooking that has made his bistros popular with punters and critics. Turns out a no-filter approach to Twitter is a pretty good way to promote a restaurant. He's also not especially bothered about keeping up with whatever the latest food trend is.

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"Loads of people have said that about us, that we have ignored trends, and that it's really refreshing. And as true as that is, I'm not trained that well anyway—as in I haven't trained with the top boys, basically," he reflects. "Maybe if I had, that would reflect more in the menus. But the type of training I've had is more humble style restaurants. They've been good—but they have been more neighbourhood restaurants."

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Originally from St Albans, Usher has worked everywhere from pub kitchens to hotels and restaurants. The chef opened Sticky Walnut in 2011. Burnt Truffle was only open for a year when Hispi launched. He says the hardest thing is actually not getting bored, not resting on his laurels.

"That sounds weird but the buzz of opening a restaurant is fucking huge It's equal to the stress but the buzz does outweigh that," he explains. "I think once you know you can open another one, it's hard not to get really impatient and be like, right, let's open another one and another one."