Sticky Walnut – Chester

“It was well above average”

A curious statement you may think. But in the world of Sticky Walnut average is a by word for social media stardom. It harks to a particular twitter feed whereby a disgruntled punter ‘Trip Advisored’ that SW had served up an ‘average’ meal. Gary Usher, head chef and owner vented his angered humour on the poor chump, to the hilarity of his many followers. The rise of Sticky Walnut was assured. Foodies flocked to sample the average offering.

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However, as we all know, it’s been more than average. A restaurant cannot function on media savvy tweets alone. It needs to back it up with decent grub. The accolades have poured in. Local interest quickly morphed into National interest culminating in a prestigious ‘AA Restaurant of The Year’ for 2013/14. It’s been on my list ever since.

Last Saturday I managed to bag a six o clock table for The Flame and me. Given the heady, after dark mileage the fabled fifty fifty driving scheme (I drive there, the flame drives back) turned to a one hundred to me. This meant I couldn’t sample some of the craft ales that were offered on arrival. A full cooking, coke had to hold my attention.

We parked on the street. The place is settled on a narrow one way thoroughfare in Hoole. Hoole itself, is a small enclave on the outskirts of Chester. The restaurant is effectively a single shop width on two floors. It has a simple, freshly painted frontage. The glowing indoor lights cast a welcoming glow through the large window onto the cold, sleet laden street. We were glad to get in and set up on our quaint, street level table. We were the first in and spent a few minutes probing the impressive range of cookery books next to our table. I had quite a few of them!

The  welcoming interior
The welcoming interior

I could count maybe twelve staff including the chefs. They were all beavering away. It looked an impressive well oiled machine. As the kitchen was on a lower level than the dining bit, it was a bit strange watching the twitter stars heads popping up above the servery. FOH kept us well informed and we soon ordered from the single sheet menu.

First up, a bit of bread. I say bit of bread. What arrived was half a dozen sections of arguably the best focaccia I’ve ever had. Evocatively soaked in the finest olive oil and crusted with rosemary, thyme and the finest sea salt. I could have simply ate a few courses of this and gone away happy.

The menu, stunning bread and calves brains
The menu, stunning bread and calves brains

Next up the starters. The Flame went for the oven roasted beets with spicy pumpkin seeds, ricotta and sticky walnuts (£6); I went for the port and rosemary risotto with deep fried calves’ brain (£7). Both dishes epitomised the time honoured aim of applying tastes and textures that feature sweet, sour, smooth and crunch. My brains were smooth and rich, but quenched perfectly by a slurry of crimson, acidic, sweet rice. Stunning. The Flame loved the ricotta and the sticky, sweet, crunchy walnuts.

Lamb neck, hake, truffle and parmesan chips
Lamb neck, hake, truffle and parmesan chips

For mains I had the braised lamb neck, treviso, balsamic raisins and onion puree (£18). I don’t think I’ve ever had lamb like this. Simply resting my fork on top brought the soft pink flesh away from its clump. Washed in the jus and purees and mingled with sweet raisins it was exquisite. The Flame had butter soaked hake, kale, fennel with lemon and brown shrimps (£17) accompanied by truffle and parmesan chips (£3). I managed a fork full of the thick, fishy hake. A perfect specimen. The flame loved it. If I was being picky I would have preferred the crispy but soft inside, hot chips to have arrived without the truffle and parmesan. The Flame loved them though, so who am I?

Trifle, beets starter, cheese board
Trifle, beets starter, cheese board

I finished with the rhubarb trifle with sherry cream and almond crumble (£6). It didn’t look too special in fairness but the boozy cream and the sweet rhubarb soon ensured it was amongst the very best I’d had. The Flame had a super cheese board (£7), with homemade bread and chutney, each cheese passionately described by the highly efficient Adam. Two coffees finished and we waltzed off into the cold night.

We were £75 lighter for an hour and a half’s usage of the table. We both concluded it was a super meal and that we would be back. The idea next time would be to arrive by train in the daytime, have a stroll round Chester and make more of a day of it. We could either have lunch or an early tea again. Either way we’ll be able to sample the wine and the beer as well next time.

It definitely wasn’t average. It is much more than that.

Sticky Walnut
11 Charles Street
Hoole
Chester
CH2 3AZ

01244 400400

www.stickywalnut.com

 

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The Plough Inn – Croft (nr Warrington)

“Sorry everyone but I’ve found another great place to eat”

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The Plough Inn at Croft, like many pubs of late has had its ups and downs. Many years ago I recall it being a fairly standard local pub. Frequented often by its local rural crowd, it did what many pubs of the time did; serve half decent ale and a decent pie and chips when called upon. As we know many pubs, particularly rural ones, have either gone to the wall or effectively become restaurants or ‘gastropubs’. I have already ventured to and regaled about many fine specimens throughout the North West. See list below!* This latest one has the distinct advantage of being walkable from my home town of Newton-le-Willows. It’s a good walk mind, about four and half miles, so it’s a summer stroll or a winters Sunday. But boy on this evidence it’s worth it and its going on the list.

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The Plough has succumbed on and off to periods of neglect, however it seems a hefty dose of love and affection has been awarded to its period frame. A splash of paint on the outside has freshened its gills, a lick inside has set its heart alight. It still needs a bit doing inside I fancy to fully compete with the esteemed list below, but without doubt the raw materials are all present and correct. Timber beams, an open fire, dark wooden fittings. It will do nicely.

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The sun was streaming through on this Sunday binge, the place almost empty. The Flame flitted between several tables before selecting a suitable spot. A Deuchars IPA, one of three real ales, soon had me purring. The comprehensive menu soon added to my contentment. In fact there were two menus. The standard Sunday offering and the Sunday lunch. I selected from the Sunday lunch at £17.95 for three courses.

The Flame started with what one would consider to be a fairly unadventurous choice. The soup of the day (£4.95). However, even it was presented with a good level of panache. Tomato and basil arrived on its own podium of timber and featured a decent swoosh of cream, herbs and breaded elements. It tasted good as well. I had the ‘Ham hock terrine’. This was as good as a starter as I’ve had in a long time. The terrine was housed in a tubular ‘kilner’ jar. The hock itself was coarse, meaty and splendidly choice in flavour. The accompaniments of homemade piccalilli, toasted bread, salad and various drops of dressing and shoots all added to the general appeal. Excellent stuff.

Soup & ham hock terrine
Soup & ham hock terrine

As it was a Sunday, my mains took on the familiar look of a traditional roast. Would have preferred a pink, topside but the slow cooked brisket went a good way towards making up the deficit. There was lots of it too. Combined with the standard, well-cooked accoutrements it was most agreeable. The Flame piped in with a chicken and leek pie (£9.95). Arriving in its own skillet on a board it looked a picture, particularly alongside its pot of crisp, hot, salted and skin on potato wedges. They alone were a triumph. The pie was chunked full of chicken, writhing in a rich sea of herby, leeky goodness. Good stuff.

Chicken & leek pie, Brisket roast
Chicken & leek pie, Brisket roast

As ever, for research purposes, I had to test out a dessert. And crikey, in trooped a memorable effort. Apple and granola crumble with custard. Arriving in its own earthenware pot, set on a slate it came with a riot of coulis, kumquats and a boat of hot, vanillary loveliness. Truly special.

Apple & granola crumble
Apple & granola crumble

By the time I was dousing the dessert down with the final slurp of IPA the place had filled up. It would seem you would have to book for a mid-afternoon slot on a Sunday. I wouldn’t hang about, when word gets around this could become a serious stopping point. Cheshire has another belter to go at.

*Parker Arms, Nags Head, Assheton Arms, Hearth of the Ram, The Old Sessions, The Church Green, The Three Fishes to name but a few!

The Plough Inn,
Heath Lane, Croft, Warrington, Cheshire WA3 7DS
01925 766001

The Richmond Tea Rooms – Manchester

“Our very own Alice in Wonderland adventure park right here in Manchester!”

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It does beg the question whether accolades really do enhance the reputation and service of a restaurant or whether it ruins it? The Flame and I have held in our grasp a significant portion of gift vouchers for The Richmond Tea Rooms in Manchester for quite some time now. However our ability to purloin a table for two on a suitable afternoon has proven to be somewhat fraught. It would seem that ever since it won the tea room of the year everyone wants to try it! Good for business I suppose but somewhat frustrating as a would be punter.

Exterior graphics, Wonderland interior
Exterior graphics, Wonderland interior

That said last Saturday we decided to crash on and get ourselves into town and wait….. and wait….. and wait. We wound our way down the backstreet, past a rather splendid exterior graphic and up the grand steps. The good lady at the reception pod pronounced that it was a mere two hour wait before we could be seated! Unperturbed we added our data to the ever-growing list on the good ladies pad and set off for an alcoholic relaxant (at Beef and Pudding if you must know!). With some glee the call came some forty minutes later. With the relaxant sunk we hared off back across town once again.

swooshes & swathes
swooshes & swathes

This time it was mere moments before we were set down at our cosy retreat amidst a riot of flamboyance, gladioli, swooshes and swathes. The place is festooned with nods to Alice In Wonderland. Facsimiles of playing cards, diamonds and dripping clocks. The tables are set with spotty tableware and the finest China. It’s all rather engaging.

Im feeling slightly nervous though. I’m pretty much the only male in the house. Females dominate, either in pairs or in banks of six or more. Possibly on pre alcohol hen do’s? The Flame reassures me, I’m in good hands. We order the Richmond Tea. Top of the pile this, which means we soon have a glass of bubbly to quaff. Very pleasant too. A strong, decent black coffee accompanies whilst The Flame mollycoddles a battery of implements to administer her equally fine green tea.

Soon the main event appears. Three China tiers of savouries and sweets are gently lowered mid table. We were hungry, we fleetingly admired the vision, exchanged a few pleasantries and dived in bottom first. Finger sandwiches in brown and white. Egg mayo, beef and horseradish and Brie. A spinach and feta pastry completed the savoury ensemble. All very nice, fresh and tasty as you would expect.

3 tiers of goodies
3 tiers of goodies

Next up a mini strawberry eclair. Gone in a mouth full. Then a verdant cube of sponge topped with lemon icing. Lovely jubbly. Sweets are my thing, so I’m doing nicely here. My favourite sweet is trifle and here as the finale on level two is a trifle taster. It’s perfectly fine, but there’s no booze soaked sponge wallowing at its base. A teaspoon is needed to wheedle out the full contents.
Finally, the finale, a wonderful, sweet warm scone with strawberry jam and a healthy dose of clotted cream. The highlight for me. Rich and crumbly, a cracking end. I washed it down with a mouth full of bubbly.

Superb scones
Superb scones

As I mentioned we had £50 worth of gift vouchers to devour. The Richmond Tea takes it all with a small tip. For all the wait we were only in for forty minutes. As I say we were hungry, so we didn’t hang about. One might suggest it was little expensive (just over a pound a minute!) but we had a lovely time. I’d try and call in again for something less exotic. It’s a great space to while away some precious time. You should try it once at least!

The menu, more interior
The menu, more interior

Richmond Tea Rooms,

15 Richmond Street,
Manchester M1 3HZ
0161 237 9667
http://www.richmondtearooms.com