Restaurant review - Sticky Walnut, Hoole, Chester
PUBLISHED: 10:13 20 May 2014 | UPDATED: 10:46 09 May 2016
Welcome to the Sticky Walnut in Hoole, domain of chef-patron Gary Usher who has worked at the Chester Grosvenor and Jamie's Italian among others
When one arrives at Chester’s graceful Italianate railway station for a day out there must be a very special reason for walking, not towards the attractions within the ancient city walls, but in the opposite direction.
Cross the railway bridge, continue for a hundred yards or so and turn left and one discovers the delightful, though far less grandiose, Victorian streets of Hoole. The charming terrace houses and bijou shops along Faulkner Street and Charles Street are to the splendid buildings of Chester what Primrose Hill is to the magnificence of Westminster...without the hill.
But we’re not here for the architecture; we’re in Charles Street for lunch at a small, bistro-style restaurant that’s built up an enviable reputation that’s attracting national recognition. Welcome to the Sticky Walnut, domain of chef-patron Gary Usher who has worked at the Chester Grosvenor and Jamie’s Italian amongst others and now heads up a young and enthusiastic team in Hoole.
Though styling itself ‘a welcoming neighbourhood restaurant’, it’s clear when we arrive at the Sticky Walnut for a 2pm booking on a Tuesday afternoon that, like-us, not all the clientele packing the two floors can be from the immediate vicinity. It’s a comfy, homely place with simple decor, plain boarded floors, unclad wooden tables and pre-loved carver chairs and at first glance, the lunch menu - a shortened version of the a la carte - looks simple too.
It’s deceptive however, for what we actually have here is a list of dishes cleverly contrived to get the very best out of tip-top ingredients, put together in some unusual, not to say daring flavour combinations.
Unlike the a la carte, the daytime menu is divided into ‘smaller plates’ and ‘larger plates’ rather than starters and mains, presumably so that ladies who lunch can get away with ordering a couple of starters without embarrassment...just a theory.
Anyway, Mrs K began with the Sticky Walnut’s signature starter (or smaller plate), oven-roasted beets, sticky walnuts, spicy pumpkin seeds and fresh ricotta (£4), beautifully presented and offering delicious contrasts of taste and texture. The sweetness of the beetroot and caramelised walnuts worked brilliantly with the spice of the pumpkin seeds and the crunch of the latter two components married a treat with the creaminess of the ricotta. My lamb’s tongue (no need to look away!) is coated with breadcrumbs and fried until crisp on the outside yet maintaining the soft texture of sweetbread within. (£6). It’s served with Moroccan green chermoula with chilli, mint and coriander, creamy goat’s curd and a delicious smoky chickpea purée.
It was not to be lunch’s last brush with the wonders of North African cuisine, for Mrs K chose lamb tagine, lemon cous cous and mint yogurt (£12) as her larger plate and was rewarded with a first class interpretation of this Moroccan classic. The lamb was perfectly done and the use of traditional herbs and spices was marvellously judged. I had rolled and stuffed pork belly with smoky bacon lentils (£10) and it was quite superb. The pork was meltingly tender and encased a delicious sweet stuffing of apple and raisins, while the crackling was wafer thin and fabulously crisp; the smokiness of the lentils was entirely complimentary to an inspired flavour combination. The shared side order of hand-cut truffle and Parmesan chips (£3) was quite simply to die for.
Desserts provided the perfect finale to a memorable lunch. My rhubarb and custard, served with blood orange and proscecco jelly and passion fruit ice cream (£5) was as light and appealing as the spring day outside; herself’s pear and almond tart with vanilla ice cream (£5) was simply as good as this classic gets. The wine list, shortish but full of interest from the old and new worlds, yielded a bottle of fresh, peachy and easy-drinking Calbuco Chardonnay from Chile’s Central Valley (£19) and a large glass of robust old vine grenache-mourvèdre-syrah from France’s Languedoc (£6.50).
The Sticky Walnut,
11 Charles Street,
Hoole, Chester CH2 3AZ.
Tel 01244 400400.