[Didsbury, Manchester] Hispi

Covid has brought changes to all our lives, including the bit of it that we spend eating out. The restaurants we’ve been to, since they were allowed to reopen in July, all seem to have adapted well and Hispi is no exception. Tables seemed relatively distanced, staff are masked (and we were reminded that we have to wear masks when leaving our table, say to visit the loo), there’s sanitiser around – it all felt as safe as it could be. There’s changes to the food offerings. The menu has been pared back and, rather than an individually priced carte, is now a set menu priced at £39 for three courses. A bit pricier than the local competition, particularly as there was a supplement on one of the main courses and you will probably need to order a side, regardless of what main you order. No doubt to save on overheads, I think it’s the same menu at all five of Elite Bistro’s locations. It may be pared back in the number of offerings at each course but there’s still lots of choice.

That said, we both ordered the same starter. Chicory leaves coated in a tangy sweet mustard dressing, sat on an almond and garlic sauce which, I reckon, owed its heritage to the similar Spanish dip, ajoblanco. Our server recommended dispensing with the cutlery and just pick up the leaves with our fingers and drag them through the sauce. It was, if you like, a simple salad – but this was a clever, multi-layered affair – crisp leaves, soft unctuous sauce, tangy dressing. It all worked so well.

For main courses, there was beef featherblade, braised for ages and hardly needing a knife to break it up. Good sauce, as well. And a dollop of earthy beetroot ketchup. And there’s chips - not fries; not the ubiquitous fat chips – but proper chips, nicely fried. Fish for the other plate – roast cod, perfectly cooked. It came with lightly griddled cabbage, the crunch from it nicely contrasting with the soft fish. The cod is topped with a raisin and caper “tapenade” for a bit of tang. And there’s an almond sauce, almost imperceptibly flavoured with curry spices. But, for a complete plate, the former needed a veg, while the latter needed a carb. But we sort of forgot to order the sides.

Only one of us wanted dessert. It was perfectly fine crème brulee – it’s never a dessert to shout from the rooftops about. We finished with very good espresso.

Service had been excellent throughout – warm, informative, timely and efficient. Perhaps the essence of hospitality. Nothing more is needed.

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We’re planning to revisit Hispi later this week but, in the meantime, here’s a disappointing story that there are arsewipes in even the nicest of neighbourhoods

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That is quite shocking John. I would be much less surprised to read about that happening in the US, the way things are lately, but for it to happen in your neck of the woods is gobsmacking.

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I think it’s correct the owner spoke out. Our quiet neighbourhood bar was sprayed with insults on their door the next day after the owner told the clients that they had to close the evening before.

It isn’t just the food in a restaurant that makes for an enjoyable evening. It’s a package. You need a buzz about the place. And you need good service. And, last night, service was exemplary. The guy would be an asset to any restaurant and, in particular, a neighbourhood place like Hispi. Absolutely on the ball, knowledgeable about the food, anticipating when another drink was needed even before you knew yourself and able to be chatty at the same time, even though the restaurant was busy. Do you really need anything more? Well, yes, you do. You do need that good food and Hispi doesn’t let you down.

It’s a short menu these days – just four choices at each course (including a “fish special” at both starter and main). There was a decent focaccia to nibble on before the starters arrived. We’d both ordered the same dish – chunks of butternut squash, roasted with the Lebanese spice mix, Baharat. To keep it vegan, there’s a hazelnut “cream”, fairly smooth but still with some bits of the nut for texture. And there’s salted cucumber which did the plate some crunch but did make it all quite salty.

The day’s fish special was one main course. A whole grilled plaice, perfectly cooked with lovely sweet flesh. It’s dressed with a Café de Paris butter enhanced with a scattering of brown shrimps. And there’s straw potatoes and a handful of watercress. Really nice. Long braised beef featherblade has become a bistro favourite round here in recent times. And this was so long braised that you only needed a fork to break it apart. And the gravy had such a deep flavour that I wanted to lick my plate so I didn’t miss any of it. But, instead, I used the chips to wipe it up. And these may have been the chips by which all future chips will be judged against. Not “fat” chips, not fries – just normal chip sized chips, fried to perfection so they were crispy on the outside and fluffy inside. Oh, and dusted with a little Parmesan and truffle. There’s also a cauliflower cream which was OK but which didn’t really work for me. It didn’t improve on having a couple of cauli florets on the plate.

We’ll often pass on desserts, even on previous visits here, but everything had been so good we thought it worth a try. A classic custard tart was a special – and one my companion is always going to order if it’s on a menu. Crisp pastry, just set creamy custard – what’s not to like. Chocolate “Oblivion” is enthusiastically named and it is a belter of a rich dessert. A slab of rich chocolate ganache, topped with chocolate mint ice cream, surrounded by the richest of chocolate sauces. I am not going to tell my diabetes nurse just how much I enjoyed eating this – no restraint whatsoever. Did I mention it was rich?

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The restaurant has been forced to close for a week (at least) due to staff shortages caused by Covid isolation.

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