We ate at Gary Usher’s original gaff – Sticky Walnut in Chester – back in 2013 and loved it. It’s exactly the right take on the seasonality that you expect from Modern British cooking. So, we were quite excited to hear that his third venture was to be almost on our doorstep. Hispi properly opened only a few days ago and you can just tell they’ve got it right straight from the start. Tables are well spaced, seating is comfy – although the air con was blasting out making the room quite cold. Service from the young, smiley team is very Didsbury. And it’s a well balanced menu with half a dozen or so choices at each course.
Pigeon breast was perfectly pink. It came with giant couscous that had been soaked in beetroot juice, giving it a great colour. There’s a scattering of blackberry, the sweet/sharp working well with the port based sauce. Also on the plate, fennel crisps for texture and a dab of an intense liver mousse, presumably from the pigeon. The other starter, described as a truffled potato salad, gives no real clue as to what you’ll get. Of course, there’s a recognisable potato salad – cubes of spud in a dressing. But there’s also chunks of one of those disconcerting purple ones. And matchsticks of deep fried potato. For contrast, there’s charred spring onion. Both these plates really work.
For one of the main courses, beef featherblade had been braised for ages, till it just fell apart. Absolutely delicious, although not piping hot. Alongside, crisp broccoli, a mushroom puree and a handful of chips, dusted with truffle and Parmesan. Duck breast had been cooked with the lightest of touches – perhaps too light as whilst the flesh was spot on, there was no crispy skin. But the accompaniments made up for the skin – spring onions, roast shallot and confit garlic.
At this level of cooking, desserts can often be a disappointment and, more often than not, we don’t bother with one. Glad we made an exception here. Custard tart sat on the plate with no other adornment. Serve it that way and there’s nowhere to hide – everything has to be perfect. Well, they almost made it. Filling was right up there, but the pastry was less than crisp in parts. The other dessert did my diabetes no good at all. A generous slice of parkin, the flavour of ginger coming through, a rich as you like butterscotch sauce and a lovely light crème fraiche sorbet. Just what you want on a chilly autumn night.