Tag Archives: focaccia

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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Bacaro – Liverpool

“The more sophisticated member of the Salt House family. Lovely”

Occasionally the Cooktwit ventures west. A Manchester United supporter will sometimes allow a jaunty surjourn into the lofty, port side metrop of Liverpool. In fairness the sea frontage is a thing of beauty. In this instance the cooktwit. with a nod to his arty side was nipping into the Tate to view a couple of blocky, coloured pics by a long departed French cove called Piet Mondrian. Apparently he got quite famous for painting coloured squares and had some digs in London in the early 1900’s specifically for the cause. Naturally the jaunt had to include some decent grub and a beer.

The understated outside. Smart inside.
The understated outside. Smart inside.

The selected establishment this time was Italian Tapas experts Bacaro. Bacaro is the sister of its noisier neighbour Salthouse Tapas that I reviewed only a few weeks back. I was impressed that time and had heard that this was even better. It took some finding. I actually fired google maps up to discover we were across the road. It doesn’t exactly shout out from the street, subtlety being the word here. But hey once inside things start to look up. A dark, classical decor harks to a more sophisticated atmosphere than its sister. Quieter, higher quality fittings. You could turn up with your tinsel and tiara here or your jeans and fit in quite nicely.

the lunch menu, smart interior
the lunch menu, smart interior

The flame and I settled on a table for two in the centre. A schooner of ‘Meantime’ London Pale Ale had the cook twit settled in a thrice. Things were looking good. And then we got the menus. No readers meant the grey on brown menu was hard to decipher. The lunch menu much easier to digest, £12.50 for three courses. As we were on a mission we quickly decided this was for us. A choice of twelve delicious sounding dishes. As with most tapas restaurants the dishes simply rock up when chef gets them ready. This can lead to a pile up at certain points.

The amazing a la carte menu
The amazing a la carte menu

Things started at a pleasing rate, charcuterie platter and some lovely rosemary faccacia bread with oil. We each munched along with a joyous smile. Then entering side right, the pan fried sea bass with cannellini beans, feta and tomato. We decided to split in half. The beans were a bit cold but the sea bass was wonderful, tight crisp skin over succulent white flesh, very nice. For me The Flame wasted one of her dishes by having the house salad, it was pleasant enough, but salad! My chicken and aubergine pizzette turned up. Nicely mounted on its own board complete with its own chrome pizza cutter, nice touch. It tasted good as well. Again we split two ways.

pizzette, sliders, sea bass, pork belly
pizzette, sliders, sea bass, pork belly

While I wasn’t looking in popped another of my choices. Chicken Caesar sliders. These were a revelation. As we got two, it was an easy share. Basically it was a mini schnitzel on a brioche bun with salad and mayo. Top dish. The plates were flying in by this time. Belly pork with butternut squash sage and chilli was next. What can I say? soft fatty, luscious pork with a shield of crispy crackling down one side. I managed to cut, roughly in half. Some might say my half was biggest but who’s counting? Set on a very tasty mash of butternut squash, it was another cracking little dish.

charcuterie, foccacia, coffee, cheesecake
charcuterie, foccacia, coffee, cheesecake

For research purpose I had to try the cheesecake which had apple and caramel popcorn on it. To be fair this was pretty standard ‘moussey’ stuff and at £4.95 I could have missed it. We then finished with a decent coffee. All in all a very pleasant luncheon. It set us back £44, not bad with the drinks and the extras. I would have to say this was better than Salt House Tapas for me. A bit more grown up, nicer atmosphere. I would definitely come again and try something from the sensational looking full menu. The Flame has it on her radar for when she comes shopping with her mates. So there we have it another one to try in Liverpool. It’s looking good.

more smart interior shots
more smart interior shots

Bacaro

47 Castle St,

Central,

Liverpool L2 9UB

0151 665 0047

http://www.salthousebacaro.co.uk