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Iestyn

Walnut Tree

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I was In Hay last week and popped in here for lunch. Sorry this is a bit lacking detail, I just wrote a review and lost it by pressing the wrong key, Its too frustrating to start again, and also, as I mentioned in the deleted write up, as I knew I wouldn't blog it, I don't have decent notes.

Essentially:

It was cool to see Mr Hill in the kitchen and occasionally popping into the bar.

There was an amouse whcih was essentially like a very good lebanese pastry, grease free pastry, feta-like cheese. Good in a lebanese restaurant but nothing massively special.

I started properly with a boudin made from lobster, which had an excellent mousseline texture. This basically reminded me, with the gumminess , of a thai fish cake, but the depth of flavour was superb. It was served with a pile of prawns and a mushroom sauce and was good, but not stand out.

My companion had deep fried courgette which was in an amazing batter, one of the lightest I've had and really grease free. The courgette was great, it had lost all bitterness. The major downside was that the filling of the flowers was not far away from the appetiser.

For my main course I had veal, the steak looked thin, grey and overcooked. Appearances can be deceptive as in fact it was melt in the mouth. It was an amasing piece of meat, looking overcooked, not slow cooked yet full of flavour. It was served with kidneys, which I used to dislike (but recently have enjoyed, not only here but at Testi in Stoke Newington- to be blogged soon!). There was no awful pissiness to them, they had a hint of pink in the middle and a very subtle flavour. The only downside to this dish was the black pudding on the side which was absurdly heavy on the nutmeg and tasted more like having christmas pudding on the side. Still, this dish was almost there.

My friend had sole with salsify. The sole was perfectly cooked, singingly fresh, with the scent of the sea and not a hint of chewiness. The beurre blanc was classic but technically very correct, and the bitterness of the salsify cut through it a treat. This was a very classic combination, but here it was clearly shown why it had become a classic.

We had no room for dessert, but coffee came with petit fours. It was odd that I didn't want dessert, as prior to following the recipe in "How to cook better", I just couldn't make puff pastry, so the chef here basically taught me how to make pastry, but on the menu nothing was calling out. The petit fours had something I forget and a fairly ordinary, indeed, too rich brownie. But it also had a cube of a fudge that was ethereally light. Superb.

I do not (unlike some) believe that value is irrelevant, so I note that this place has a daily changing set lunch at £20 for three courses. I stress that we had a la carte, but with two courses, ( as well as the amuse and petit fours) and half a bottle each we paid £35 each with service. That is staggeringly good vale.

At this point I will finish off by mentioning decor, which was very simple, no tablecloths etc., but at least the essentials were maintained, eg. Riedel glasses. On the service front, it was I'm afraid to say a little amateurish. Not terrible, certainly very friendly, but needing a good deal of polish.

Still this was very good food, in a beautifull setting for reasonable money. Abergavenny is not exactly convenient for anywhere, but if you are in the area do pop in. The cooking is not quite worth a big trip, but if you're in Herefordshire or South Wales- then it really is worth making an effort to get to.


Edited by Iestyn (log)

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I went to the Walnut Tree a couple of weeks ago. thought it was very good - unpretentious service and tasty food. However the starters were far better than the main dishes.

I agree - pretty good value. 3 courses with plenty of wine. less than £50 a head.

would recommend others to make the trek.

fergal

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We're off here next week, I agree that on the menu at least the starters look far more interesting than the main courses, but I'm still looking forward to it more than I've looked forward to a meal in a long time.

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We ate there last Saturday and were singularly impressed.

A kir was served up with incredibly cheesy puff thingys.

Sweetbreads and pigs head to start - both excellent.

I had more pork as a main - cheek, loin and belly, with spring cabbage and pureed spuds. What I took away from the dish was just how perfect everything was. Not an earth shaking combination but I would give a half my next jobs fee to know exactly how they managed to achieve that crackling.

The OH had a rib-eye the likes of which we hadn't tasted since in NY last. The sear on the beef was a tangible texture without the carbon taste that can overpower the flesh.

We finished with a very nice panacotta with gooseberry coulis and walnuts and a strusel tart, both of which were as technically correct as they could be.

This lot was washed down with a bottle of Chateauneuf and desert wines for about 120 exc service.

It was the sort of meal that grows in stature with recollection.

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Our meal turned out to be pretty similar to the one Jeff had.

I had calves brains and pigs head cromesqui to start (two separate dishes), Jo had courgette fritters with ricotta stuffed flowers, the fritters looked underwhelming when they arrived, like heavy stodgy balls of batter, but the batter actually was really good, light and crispy with not a trace of grease. The stuffed flowers were a real treat, even for this carnivore. The brains and head were really good too, the head maybe slightly underseasoned for me, but still a really good start to the meal.

Our main courses were pork loin (me) with cheek and black pudding, and rib eye (Jo) The cheek was the best I've ever had and the black pudding was up there too, light while still being piggy. The loin wasn't the star of my main course, but that's only because the other elements were so good. Jo's ribeye was about as good as rib eyes get, great flavour, good texture, cooked exactly as ordered, with a wonderful red wine sauce and dauphine potatoes. It's speak volumes of the attention to detail at the Walnut Tree that a side order of green beans (runners it turned out) were, for me, one of the highlights, I'm off to the farm shop today to try and recreate them.

Cheese was good too, five well chosen and beautifully kept pieces.

With aperitifs, bottle and a half of wine, grappa and coffee the bill came to £131, very good value for one of my most memorable meals in a long time, and a welcome respite from multi course tasting menus.

We had a quick chat with Shaun at the end and he was smiling from ear to ear, good to see a chef happy in his work.

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Visited for Saturday lunch yesterday.

The menu is great, there is a set lunch with two choices per course or al a carte, it is one of those menus where I could happily order every dish, and so choosing was a challenge.

The amuse bouche was served as we sat down, cheesy bread with sesame seeds, and fried cannelloni filled with spinach and Parmesan. The freshly made bread, which followed, was good with a white roll that separated into slices and a very tasty multi-grain roll.

We started with crab cakes served with a tomato salsa, and a parsnip pudding with girolles and walnuts. The crab got a little lost with the tomatoes but it was all crab with no potato filler. The parsnip pudding was like a twice-cooked soufflé and was very tasty, although the walnuts tended to dominate and masked the distinctive flavour of the girolles.

For mains we had a wild duck with morels and a selection of pork – loin, belly, confit and black pudding. Both dishes were lovely, very well flavoured, precise cooking but with a rustic edge.

We followed with the cheese board which is served to share, five good sizes portions, of Gorgonzola, Reblochon, Etorki, Saint- Marcellin and Cerney served with walnut bread and a good selection of biscuits. The cheeses were all in tip top condition apart from the Saint-Marcellin that had gone past its best.

We finished with the liquorice parfait, with poached pear and lemon/honey sauce/marmalade. Perfect.

We drank a decent bottle of Gigonadas (£28) from a good list, had a glass of house Shiraz and finished with coffee. The total bill was £107.50 excluding service.

Overall it was a really enjoyable meal.

If this were local to me I would eat here on a regular basis, but it’s probably not really worth the long drive to get there. For a weekend Abergavveny would be good – The Hardwick for a more casual Friday dinner, followed by The Walnut Tree for a slightly more up market Saturday night out.

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Very timely, cheers. We were looking at the webiste this morning , thinking about a night there in November before heading back up to Ludlow for the w/e.

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Pretty good review by Jasper Gerard in todays Telegraph.

If as Shaun Hill claims "its same food as Gidleigh Park" where incidentally he held two Michelin stars,for me it will be a real pleasure to eat his food again.

Anyone on here been recently?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/restaurants/6455314/Wales-restaurant-guide-The-Walnut-Tree-Abergavenny-Wales.html

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Interesting to see Gerard refer to the Walnut Tree as Shauns 'latest' place, how long has he been there now?

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I'm giving my age away by confessing to my weekend eating Shaun Hill,s food at Gidleigh Park and again at Merchant House in Ludlow.

I sort of lost track of him when he left Merchant House, I seem to remember a place in Worcester, The Glasshouse? That I did not visit.

Given his status within the industry, and to some a true legend, its good to see him getting good press reviews.

To get back to your question late 07 early 08 ? but freely admit to googling it and came up with this article by wine Godess Jancis Robinson (why do we not hear much of her of late?)

Enjoy.

http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/20080118_1.html

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Must have been 08 then, my memory has never been that good!

What I do remember is exactly what I ate, it was one of the best meals I've ever had.

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Just have a look at this. This is a Merchant House menu circa 2000 I think, and proudly framed in our house. I could murder anyone of these dishes and in fact, the saddle of venison / foie gras dish is the one that turned me into the impoverished foodie I am today. Seriously though, it makes one think. Pitch perfect dishes without any fuss. I won't euolgise too much as I am sure it would make Shaun gag.

Sauteed monkfish with ginger,garlic and tomato

Pike quenelle with scallop, languostine and dill

Grilled seabass with spiced beurre blanc

Roast quail with parsley risotto

-----------------

Roast turbot with wholegrain mustard sauce

English grey partridge with braised lentil and morrel mushrooms

Loin of local veal and sweetbreads with potato and olive cakes

Saddle of venison with foie gras

-----------------

Panettone bread and butter pudding

Somloi (Hungarian trifle)

Muscat creme caramel with prunes

Iced passion fruit parfait

He is still turning out cracking dishes at the Walnut Tree and we had a stellar lunch at Walnut Tree back in August. Steak tartare for me and then perfect duck. Clams for the missus and our little git now adores John Dory. %7Boption%7D

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Is this a full time cooking venture then? For some reason i thought it was a consultancy? Good if he's back ...


you don't win friends with salad

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Do you mean is Shaun cooking at the Walnut Tree? If you do then, yes, he is, where have you been!

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yeh but it wont be full time. the mans far too busy for that. he has a head chef, cant remember his name.

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im sure hes got a couple of columns and other interests. he is behind the stoves for sure but not totally.

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Columns are what you do on a Monday morning to ease yourself into the week, I hardly think they would interfere with his cooking.

I've never heard any other suggestion that he's not there full time, and as I said, he's been there every time I have.

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Do you mean is Shaun cooking at the Walnut Tree? If you do then, yes, he is, where have you been!

it's not new for shaun to do consultancies, and i though he had a few on currently, indeed he's involved with a friend's place afaik.

if he is at the walnut tree full time/generally that is indeed good news.


you don't win friends with salad

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I Know Shaun, has/does consult at various places, but his takeover of The Walnut Tree was billed as 'him having his own place again'.

And you're right, it is good news, the food there is sublime. It's a while since we've been, but I think it's time book again.

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I'm delighted and relieved that the Walnut Tree's latest incarnation is doing reasonably well. I spotted the thread and thought it easiest just to explain my involvement and how this fits in with other stuff.

I pitch up at the Walnut Tree most days from just before midday until shortly after the last main course has gone at night - I live 60 miles away. I rarely take a day off - one a fortnight perhaps though my ambition is one a week, usually a thursday - and am shaking the pans during the service rather than merely in attendance. There's a head chef, Roger Brook who worked at the Walnut Tree under Franco Taruschio and Stephen Terry before my time and who is first rate. He does all the stuff that I don't like, the ordering, rotas and such, runs the kitchen in fact. Also he doesn't seem to mind me turnng up each day to participate. In his position it would drive me mad.

I have several consultancies. The biggest is Fortnum and Mason who I advise mostly on produce, and I turn up almost every week there on a Monday when the Walnut Tree is closed. I also work for the Montagu Arms in Beaulieu but need only see them once a month as they have a superb chef and really don't need much more than encouragement and reassurance from me. Similarly I do a couple a days a year for British Airways and advise the Welsh Millenium Centre in Cardiff on the same basis. I enjoy writing and will produce a column, review or whatever whenever commissioned. My next book is a year late because I've been busy

All this, folks, pays the bills. I take nothing thus far from the Walnut Tree and in fact ran up a loss of £103K in the first year - no limited liablity so all owed personally - but expect to break even this year and make a profit next.

I do understand the suspicion though. I did once take a shareholding in a brasserie in Worcester - where I now live - and found that things weren't as I wanted so bailed out. The danger in any involvement other than full time and in full control is that people who are greedy morons will do embarrasing things in your name.

The Walnut Tree was flattered by recent ratings. It is a good brasserie - just the sort of food and style I really like best - but never going to compete with those making elaborate two or three star meals. Jane Grigson once said that what we needed was a better standard of ordinary and I concur. I'm happy to chat to whoever wants if you come to eat but don't enjoy touring the tables to fish for compliments. So shout up if you want to see if I'm at work. If not. keep an eye on the bar where I will - toward the end of each service - take a glass or two of red wine - the consolation as well as the reward.

Very best wishes

Shaun

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