[Llanddewi Skirrid, Monmouthshire] Walnut Tree
It’s years since we’ve eaten Shaun Hill’s food. That was when he was at Ludlow. The memory can play tricks but I have a sense that the food is now simpler, more straightforward, the flavours more direct. Unsurprisingly, the menu is very much in the “modern Brit” style but with the occasional darts into foreign territory. Non-native, if not unfamiliar, elements if you will. It’s outstandingly good.
The style was set by the amuse – a lovely mini-crabcake with a simple dressing of tomato and capers. This was served in the tiny bar area, so I suppose it might be described as a canapé. We were quickly moved through to our table, no doubt to free up space in the bar for arriving customers.
A starter of red mullet was bang-on for cooking. We seem to be particularly enjoying fish in recent months and this was no exception. Moist flakes with just a little charring round the edges. A dressing to tomato, chilli and ginger would have benefitted from a slightly heavier hit of chilli but otherwise worked well.
It takes a real master to offer a simple dish and make a success of it. Here, baby courgettes, sugar snaps, parsley and chickpeas – and that was pretty much it. Almost summer on a plate – and absolutely enhanced by the chickpea puree which acted as the sauce. Delicious.
Mains looked simplicity personified. One a plate of rare breed Berkshire pork – thin slices of loin, long cooked cheek and a lovely piece of belly, with crackling so crisp you’d have heard it breaking miles away. Straightforward accompaniments of masked potato, steamed cabbage and a light gravy.
The other dish – skirt steak, cooked rare with ceps and Parmentier potatoes. And a lovely dressing of parsley, garlic, oil, lemon and, I think, anchovy. Salsa verde by any other name, this worked so well.
Both dishers show that, yes, you can offer “proper” plates of food, with no foams or the use of tricky gizmos, and hold a Michelin star.
Desserts were stars. Mirabelle plum fool – tasting of plum and cream. And nothing more was needed.
A summer pudding type dish of nectarine and wimberry. It tasted even better than it looked. And it looked superb. Intensely flavoured and a glossy, almost black sauce against the white of the plate – this looked like a monochromatic work of art. And, yes, it was delicious. Wimberries are a personal favourite, dating back to childhood. This was a reminder of why.
We finished with excellent coffee and equally excellent petit fours. A stand out meal of 2011.
We never made it to Ludlow when Shaun Hill was there, but having heard of his reputation, we were delighted to find about the Walnut Tree when we were in Wales in the fall of '08. We had a memorable lunch and made a point of returning this past spring, on our way from Ludlow to Tewksbury, and once again had an excellent lunch. Glad to hear that you enjoyed it too.