It was a wonderful thing to wake up to the news this morning that one of our favourite independent restaurants has received a recommendation in the Michelin Guide 2020, and after our dinner there last Thursday, I don’t think it could be any more deserved.
“A restaurant in the Recommended selection is the sign of a chef using quality ingredients that are well cooked; simply a good meal” says Michael Ellis, International Director of the MICHELIN Guide books.
Nicholas Friar, one of Chester’s much-loved food & drink superheroes, created the Hypha concept after a life changing decision to lead a healthier, more balanced lifestyle by embracing a totally plant based diet. He took his newfound passion one stage further by creating a beautiful space up on the historic walls of Chester where he could share his knowledge with an audience who were quickly warming to the concept of veganism.
The Vegan movement has taken the country by storm of late, and many of our celebrated independent dining pubs, restaurants and coffee shops have fully embraced the idea by adding vegan specials and even entire food and drink events dedicated to the cause. This led the way to the city being ready to welcome Hypha to the food and drink landscape, and also to such high recognition in the process.
To say that we thoroughly enjoyed dinner at Hypha last week is an understatement. We have all enjoyed a vegan dish out and about at some point but sitting down to an entire plant-based ensemble was something I haven’t done for many years.
To listen to Nic describing the Hypha concept and current menu (dishes come and go as often as the wind changes) is an epic experience, almost like a plant-based symphony. It is such a pleasure to come across such a committed industry professional, and if you can get a seat at the chefs table and have an almost one to one experience with him, then do it. It’s a Food & Drink love affair not to be missed.
The whole flavor profile of Hypha is based on 5 senses; Sweet, sour, salty, bitter and Unami (a savory flavor which has its own receptors rather than arising out of a combination of the traditionally recognized taste receptors, scientists now consider umami to be a distinct taste).
The food was divine. Nic chose the dishes for us and each one perfectly accompanied the last, and the next. We started with a couple of snacks, and in true Hypha style, even the aperitifs and nibbles were extraordinary. My earthy gin & tonic was topped with the most heavenly aquafaba foam made from chick pea legumes, citrus acid and passion fruit and the salt cured pineapple had been brined in a 3% salt solution for 24 hours before drying, sprinkled with cracked pink peppercorns and de-hydrated at 57 degrees for a further 24 hours. Climb those stairs, order a gin & tonic with aquafaba foam and a snack of salt cured pineapple. You’ll thank me later.
Hypha is a small-plates concept which is a much nicer, less over-facing way of dining. Nic brought us Shaved fennel salad with Cheshire apple, pickled celery, blackberry vinaigrette, curried granola, tarragon pearl barley, blackberry & bramley puree with lemon balm and red amaranth. This was a super – super food salad and all of those ingredients worked beautifully together to taste of the Autumn. It was perfectly accompanied by the 24-hour fermented focaccia which we could smell baking when we arrived and was also delicious.
Next came the Filipino adobo salad with semi pickled oyster mushrooms, black turtle beans cooked in adobo stock, young jackfruit, candied shallots, snap dragon flowers with wild rice and pink peppercorn. Beautiful to look at and all of those 5 flavor senses came together perfectly in this dish. I’ll be popping back in at lunch time very soon for this one again.
The hotly anticipated black sesame potato and paprika croquettes (with truffle hollandaise) arrived with the piccolo parsnips (with espresso kefir reduction) and I can see why Nic cannot take either of these dishes off the menu. Both stunning, but the parsnips were especially divine.
Finishing off the savoury selection was one that I’d had my eye on and I hoped Nic would include – Hand cut dan dan noodles with ginger and garlic minced tofu, Szechuan peppercorns, pickled pok choi, micro coriander, spring onion, white sesame and roasted chilli oil. One word – amazing.
The deserts were also so good – not as sweet and much lighter than dairy rich equivalents. We opted for the Chocolate fudge brownie with peanut butter and soy vanilla ice cream – and the raspberry bakewell cheesecake with raspberry jam and ameretti biscuit base. The ‘cheesecake’ element is made with a nut based alternative which was so much nicer.
My Hypha Pina Colada was made with a very special mixer too – Tepache. This is one of Hypha’s very special ingredients and really showcases its commitment to sustainability and its ongoing mission to minimise food waste, as they constantly strive to develop new ways to utilise an entire product.
For example, imported pineapples have quite a high carbon footprint, so they make use of every part of the fruit.
The flesh is used to make that delectable Salt Cured Pineapple Jerky bar snack mentioned earlier and the skins are used to make a fermented beverage called Tepache. The skin of organic pineapples is full of interesting bacteria than can be harnessed to create lactic acid. The process of turning sugars into lactic acid gives you an incredible sour “funk” which is created in a 4-day fermentation along with cloves, star anise, red pepper and chilli flakes. They then strain the mixture and bottle ferment the Tepache for a further 3 days to increase carbon dioxide creation and make the drink fizzy.
They even take the pineapple leaves and strew them into a tea which is frozen into ice blocks to serve the Tepache over with a splash of rum and a top of pilsner. It’s like a boozy, pineapple shandy.
I was so impressed with Hypha, not just for the stunning food but also for the ingenuity and creativity which goes into every single element. The wine list is superb, and our English Henners Native Grace Rose 2018 was a fabulous accompaniment to the beautiful food.
If you haven’t been to Hypha, whether you are a meat eater, vegetarian, vegan or anything else you can think of then you are missing out. A truly great experience delivered by someone so passionate and dedicated. It’s no wonder he has been awarded a Michelin Guide recommendation.