“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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
11 Charles Street