Sticky Walnut

Some meals were made to be shared. They’re the meals that are so damn good, they’re instantly elevated to pedestal status in your dining out memories, the meals after which you find yourself uncontrollably extolling their virtues to anyone who’ll listen. The meals where you feel compelled to ask for a menu so that you can take it home and frame it… (Or is that just me?)

A small restaurant just outside Chester with a big reputation, Sticky Walnut was DEFINITELY one of those meals. A long-awaited visit owing to years of hype from one of my best friends and her family (and most trusted connoisseurs of fine food, no less), my expectations were very high. As our taxi pulled up outside the restaurant, I was instantly charmed. For a restaurant so steeped in hype and admiration, the Sticky Walnut is surprisingly low key. Occupying an unassuming yet inviting spot amongst a row of terraces in the village of Hoole, it’s perfected laid-back chic to a tee, without a hint of white linen in sight. Cute and cosy, it’s more akin to dining at a friend’s house than a fancy restaurant. A very nice house at that, mind.

Casual it may be, but Sticky Walnut knows how to do my kind of romance. Adorned on its exposed brick walls were blackboards scrawled with some of the most evocative poetry that you could hope to experience in a restaurant – ‘English asparagus’, ‘wild garlic’, ‘purple sprouting broccoli’.  Ingredients in season and celebrated on the menu, this was THE language of romance for me, and my attraction to Sticky Walnut was instant.

I’d resisted my usual pre-dinner ritual of scrutinising the restaurant’s menu online, and my patience was rewarded. A far cry from the often unimaginative choices afforded to vegetarians, Sticky Walnut’s menu just got it. With a focus on seasonal ingredients paired with their culinary soulmates, the menu not only enticed me, but it had me spoilt for choice – a rare occurrence for us veggies. In the end, I just couldn’t decide and committed a cardinal sin by fusing two of the menu’s dishes together. I blame asparagus – when English asparagus is on the menu, I’m powerless to its advances and I just had to have it, regardless of whether it came with my chosen vegetarian dish, or not. Thankfully, the Sticky Walnut staff were perfectly accommodating and my asparagus wish was their command!

I started with ‘Oven roast beets, sticky walnuts, spicy pumpkin seeds, goats cheese’. There’s something very alluring about the combination of beetroot and goats cheese. In this case, the beets were maroon, glistening chunks and the goats cheese was whipped into a light, airy mousse that hit me with a tart and powerful punch. With the addition of candied, sticky walnuts and the piquant pumpkin seeds, I nearly shed a tear once I’d devoured the last morsel. Stunning.

While the flavours of my starter still danced on my taste buds, I contemplated the customised main I’d opted for: ‘Cashel Blue arancini, creamed spinach and walnuts with English asparagus’. Now, I love arancini, but I rarely, if ever, order it while I’m out. The odd times I have, I’ve been disappointed by claggy balls of congealed risotto past its best, where the overwhelming taste is greasy breadcrumbs. Not so at Sticky Walnut. Another beautiful plate of food, I held my breath, took a bite and smiled. THAT’S arancini.

Breaking through a crisp exterior was a wonderfully oozy, yet al dente risotto. The Cashel Blue cheese cut through the rice to add a rich and tangy depth to the dish, which was complemented by the mild but decadent creamed spinach. With the customised addition of my sensational English asparagus (is there anything better than fresh English asparagus?) – it was fantastic.

To accompany this I shared the ‘Hand cut truffle and parmesan chips’ with my friend. Quite simply, 10/10. Crunchy with a silken, glossy interior and infused with sumptuous truffle and salty parmesan, they were flawless.

A quick note about portion sizes, which, even at excellent restaurants like Sticky Walnut, often attract entirely unfair criticism. The dishes may appear small, but the intense, delectable flavours more than compensated for their size and I finished each course entirely satisfied. Unless you genuinely still feel hungry after you’ve eaten a three course meal at a restaurant, I never understand the upset around portion sizes anyway. Are you going to a restaurant to get so full you can’t move? Or are you going to a restaurant to experience an intelligently-created menu that introduces you to quality ingredients at their peak, ingredients that were just made to be eaten together? I’ve experienced many restaurants that have rendered me defeated by the time I’ve conquered an over-sized, carb-laden starter, and what’s the point in that? Sticky Walnut’s portions were spot on, allowing us to do justice to the full menu that the chefs had created.

Anyway, rant over! For desert I chose the Amaretto chocolate truffles and coffee. Luxurious, velvety and completely seductive, three were more than enough. The coffee was particularly good as well – smooth and strong with a lingering finish that worked wonderfully with the truffles. As we ate our deserts, our waiter came over and presented us with a complimentary bottle of desert wine as well which was a lovely surprise!

Sticky Walnut may be a little pricier than your average meal, but that’s because it’s NOT your average meal. A warm and welcoming ambience, faultless service and elegant dishes that you’ll wistfully reminisce about until your next visit, Sticky Walnut serves up an experience as good as any Michelin star restaurant I’ve ever visited. All things considered, Sticky Walnut offers exceptional value for money, and a unique experience that will stay with you for a long time.

The Sticky Walnut is located just outside Chester in the village of Hoole. Start planning your visit today – you WON’T regret it. www.stickywalnut.com

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