News bite: At Gary Usher’s Elite Bistros, the set menu is out and à la carte is back
Published 13 June 2023

Credit: Elite Bistros

Gary Usher, who announced the change last week, said the move was in response to spiralling inflation and the knock-on effect on prices at his seven bistros that include the original Sticky Walnut in Chester, Pinion in Prescot and the most recent opening, The White Horse pub, Churton.

The restaurateur introduced set menus on reopening post pandemic. While it seemed right at the time, he told The Good Food Guide Weekly, ‘it was never what I wanted to do’ and with costs soaring since, the model became unworkable, the price reaching £47 for three courses at Sticky Walnut, Wreckfish in Liverpool, Kala (Manchester) and Hispi (Didsbury). ‘You have to be living on Mars not to see how much prices have risen. In a set menu, we have to – we want to – include more luxury items like lamb rump or chocolate. But we would never cover the cost completely, so we’d end up with a set menu that didn’t feel good value, and that we lost money on.’ He said beef and lamb prices had risen 15% in the past two years.

He added: ‘We want to make everything more relatable, more accessible. When I first opened Sticky Walnut [I wanted to create] a local neighbourhood bistro that someone on their way home from work would stop in and grab a main course and a beer.’

On the new a la carte, starters cost from £5.50 for a roasted beetroot salad, ricotta, sticky walnuts, and harissa-spiced pumpkin seeds at Burnt Truffle in Heswall, with mains across all restaurants from £14 for the likes of miso-glazed aubergine with steamed rice bun stuffed with roasted peanut, and desserts from £6.50 for honeycomb ice cream with chocolate sauce. A set ‘bistro menu’ (£24 for two courses, £27 for three) remains an option for midweek diners and for early evening bookings on Fridays.

It’s scary, Usher admitted: ‘It will make spend drop massively, and that’s a worry because we’re already 25% down, but we want to remain good value and be accessible to so many people.’