Saturday 21 December 2013

Sticky Walnut, Chester.

I was a fan of Sticky Walnut before I'd even visited. This is because chef Gary Usher is one of the most entertaining, funniest people that I follow on twitter. He always seems to be on the edge of a minor breakdown and anything can push him over the edge (usually a Tripadvisor review). Rather like Basil Fawlty thrashing that car, it's actually really funny reading their twitter feed and as a punter you get a real insight into the madness of running a restaurant. It was the wittiest response I've ever read (to a petty minded and stupid review as they tend to be), that first caught my attention a few months ago. It was the first time I can recall where a restaurant actually draws your attention to a bad review but flips it on its head by illustrating with humour how absurd many TA 'reviews' are.
On the day that we visited, it had been some idiot entering a full restaurant demanding a different table (not near the toilets), walking out, and then reviewing a meal that he'd never actually had. You can feel some sympathy with people who who work in the trade that come against people like this who themselves are the problem but who can legitimately write a review as now everybody gets their say (even nob-heads). I don't want to know the opinions of everybody, especially on food, as many people don't actually know what they're talking about. A lot of people are just unreasonable with their expectations aren't they? (See the excellent Northern Snippet blog for details). People seem to want to take revenge for things not going exactly their way. We know a few like that too.  
Naturally the chef posted a photo of a table in the toilet itself, saying; what was his problem? - I nearly spat my tea out! So following the exploits of all the team (stockwatch, his love of Wongo etc), I was really excited to be visiting on Friday lunch time. (Oh the chef's pedigree of The Chester Grosvenor, Chez Bruce, and Jamie’s Italian is impressive too, so I knew the food would most likely be tip-top).
It's a cute little place in a quaint neighbourhood of Chester and only 45 minutes drive away from us in South Manchester. We were greeted warmly, (by Emma who is lovely) and got our table by the window (I'd put in a request the day before). Every table downstairs was already taken. We started off with some Rosemary and thyme focaccia bread
I think they're rightfully proud of this, it's gorgeous, fluffy and light, a very good sign isn't it that the bread is good and home-made on the premises? To start we shared a Crispy lamb’s tongue, chickpea, goats curd and green charmoula (£6) and a Sea bream ceviche, chilli and lime, avocado, courgette salad and hazelnuts (£8). We started on the sea bream, fresh, light and mmmm that taste, full of flavour. We were impressed from the off. 
The lambs tongue was superb too, the crunch of the outer layer against the meat that's so intensely lamb (obviously what else would it be), it had the strength of flavour that we crave though. We were comparing this place already with restaurants we'd been to that were three times the price but which hadn't delivered this. Over priced my arse, very reasonable prices we thought for food this good.
We were sharing both mains, and they had thoughtfully remembered and brought out separate plates for us. I dug into the Shin of beef, winter roots, potato gnocchi and parsnip purée (£11). 
A beautiful looking dish, really gorgeous and full of flavour, all the elements worked, I especially liked the gnocci. We started fighting over the sharing process as usual, don't eat all the gnocci etc. The star dish has to be the Rolled and stuffed pork belly, smoky bacon lentils (£10). 

It's an impressive portion this. But oh, that combination, the crunchy crackling outer layer against the fatty inner layer and then the meat - absolutely perfect. This ain't rocket science, it's just great unpretentious food made with care and love by someone who can cook, it's that simple right? If only it were, we couldn't think of a single place quite like Sticky Walnut in Manchester, a lovely little bistro owned by the chef. Maybe the high rents only attract big chains/restaurant groups. (Few of which can seem to achieve food as good as this in my experience).
Great truffle and parmesan chips too

Desserts were both ace too. Our resident Sticky Toffee Pudding expert rated this as one of the best she's tried, it was warm and comforting but light and fluffy. I really enjoyed my Dark chocolate and cherry mousse, fresh honeycomb (both £5), especially the home made honeycomb element. It's these little details that as foodies that eat out a lot that you notice. (You also notice when they're not there as well). 

We both LOVED Sticky Walnut, I had a feeling the food would be good, but it exceeded expectations. There's nothing pretentious or fancy about this food, it's simply very good indeed and it made us happy. That's it really. What more can you possibly want?

Price: £64 for 2, including 2 glasses of wine, 3 courses, sides and coffees. 
Good value if you love great food.  
Service: Lovely.
Food: Excellent.
Star dish:
Pork Belly. Up there with the best pork belly we've had.
Score: 8.5/10.

Soundtrack: Let's Lovedance Tonight - Gary's Gang.

Sticky Walnut on Urbanspoon

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