As many of you will know who follow our little blog, we did a ‘5 Questions ~ The Legends’ post with a Mr Shaun Hill on the 26th July. Mr Hill broke the mould for ‘The Legends’ series as he is still cooking on a daily basis at The Walnut Tree . After going through a series of owners after the greatteam of Franco and Ann Taruschio, Mr Hill bought The Walnut Tree with local hotelier William Griffiths (who worked with Mr Hill some 12 years previous at The Merchant House, Ludlow.) in June 2007 and after some refurbishment was re-opened.
So to the review, the main aim of ‘Cheaper Eats’ series of posts has been to prove that you can eat in some of the best restaurants around for relative minimal outlay. This time two members of The Chef Hermes Blog dined out, oh the expense forms. One dined from the a la carte & the other from the set lunch menu, which was £17.50 for two courses & £23 for three. So to kick the meal off and after searching though the relative short but concise wine list which is divided in to sections of ‘Essential’, ‘Core’ & ‘Classic’. Having one of our favourite champagnes on the list by the half bottle, we plumped for Gosset Grande Reserve for £27 and one of the wines from the selection that were by the glass or 350ml carafe. We chose a Languedoc Grenache/Viognier blend for a very reasonable £10 a carafe.
After our order had been taken,a small plate of canapes arrived, two little gougeres filled with a warm smoked salmon & cream cheese filling and sesame seed encrusted stilton biscuits. Both were examples of the meal to follow, flavours were well judged and balanced, although not to one of the team’s taste ( being blue cheese and all).
Next was bread, two bread rolls turned up along with some quality butter. Now normally bread in restaurants doesn’t really warrant that much space, relative to a review. But this time we’ll make an exception, the two rolls (one white & one brown with seeds), were soft & slightly sweet, almost in a way that Mr Hill’s team had a pump and filled them with clouds from the sunny day outside.
As one half of the table were saving themselves for dessert, there was only one starter. From the set menu we give you sweetcorn soup with green chilli, ginger & skate. The only problem was that there wasn’t enough of it. The flavours in the soup were all expertly balanced especially as there were some quite clearly aggressive flavours going on. It was then garnished with some small squares of pan roasted skate with some chiffonard of coriander leaves.
After a short wait we moved on to the main courses, the team member who was eating off the a la carte had ordered Guinea Fowl with spiced cauliflower & cromsqui, whilst the unfortunate sole eating from the set menu was having Duck confit with pigs cheek & passionfruit orange sauce.
The Duck confit was excellent, not over cured as is so often the case and clearly cooked by somebody who understood the technique. That coupled with a delicious morsel of sticky braised pig’s cheek, buttered cabbage & peas and parsnip puree. It was a classic case of technique & substance over style, principally the hallmarks of Mr Hill’s food. The passionfruit & orange sauce was the perfectly judged foil for the succulent duck confit whilst the cabbage and peas gave a nice texture and added balance to the plate. As was becoming evident with the food at The Walnut Tree, we just wanted more. What we had was enough, but it all tasted so good.
After a small hiatus we ordered our desserts & coffee. This was the moment our a la carte team member was waiting for, they had their eye on the chocolate marquis from the very start of the meal and although they asked for it with ice cream & not the normal accompanying lemon sauce, they were not disappointed. However the set menu diner was also to be treated, they ordered the Bakewell Tart with vanilla ice cream which incidentally also appears on the a la carte menu as do the other choices from the set menu.
The Bakewell Tart was perfection, the frangipane so light yet with a small hint of chewyness, an excellent flavoured jam in the base, the pastry case clearly hadn’t been rushed and again was an example of how it should be done. All combined with a good vanilla ice cream. With Mr Hill saying in his notes at the start of wine list that he has bought some wines from his friend and former employer Mr Paul Henderson (formerly of Gidleigh Park) you just know that the wine list is going to be fair & balanced. We put that to the test and ordered a glass of ‘Etoile Banyuls’ for £8 per glass. More suited to the Chocolate Marquis, again it was a triumph in quality at an accessible price. Our plates were cleared and the coffee and petit fours arrived, 2 cubes each of chocolate brownie and an excellent orange & walnut fudge.
So the damage, well the total bill for two (one having 3 courses set lunch and the other 2 courses from the a la carte), a carafe of wine, a half bottle of Champagne, bottle of sparkling mineral water & coffee and petit fours for 1 came to £97 there abouts. But the object of these series of posts is about eating in higher end restaurants for a reansonable amount of money. The 3 course set menu at The Walnut Tree is remarkable value for money at £23 and with nearly all the desserts featuring on the a la carte as well you are getting more for your money. The a la carte as you’d expect is more expensive with main courses in the £17-£22 price bracket with potentially sides on the top (we’d recommend one side order if eating from the carte), but you do get the choices of Sirloin of Beef, Dover Sole, Pigeon etc.
If you wish to keep your spending down, we reckon you can have a very enjoyable meal for a smidge over £30. The bigger picture of the food from The Walnut Tree is a lesson to all up and coming chefs. Food doesn’t need to be complex involving foams, gels, espumas and 15 garnishes per main course, Mr Hill is clearly comfortable with his style of food, but his (& his team’s) technical ability shone through the meal, flavour was above all else & whilst he doesn’t conform to current trends, you can be assured of one thing if you dine with Mr Hill, it will be food done well.
To para-phrase the great Liverpool football club manager Bill Shankly
..Form is temporary, Class is permenant..
Mr Hill and his team are a class act and an education on how food should be treated.
The Walnut Tree,
Monmouthshire NP7 8AW.