[Hoole, Chester] Sticky Walnut
Every time I go to Chester, I drive within yards of this place but, of course, had no knowledge of its existence. The entry in this year’s Good Food Guide sorted that one – proving the value of guides in general and this one in particular.
It’s on the small side – about 18 covers on the ground floor and probably the same upstairs. All stripped floors and pine tables. Modern Brit menu, of course. The lunch offerings are a slightly simplified version of dinner but we had no sense that we were missing out on anything.
Jerusalem artichoke soup was mild and warming – just the sort of thing for a chilly November day – and came with a generous slice of toasted focaccia. A salad starter was also bang-on for seasonality – roasted beetroot, eponymous sticky walnuts (caramelised and crunchy), pumpkin seeds and a few blobs of ricotta. Tasted great.
Roast pork belly was just fab. A thick slice of rolled and stuffed meat – a tasty onion & sage stuffing, unctuous meat, crisp crackling. Came with some bacon and lentils. What more do you want? Well, a bowl of truffle and Parmesan fat chips is the short answer to that.
The other main was butternut squash and sage risotto. And unlike many places, there was an understanding that risotto should not be served claggy with the texture of wallpaper paste. This was more soupy and really satisfying. It came with a couple of Parmesan crisps, chestnut mushrooms which tasted as though they had been lightly pickled. It had all been garnished with a sprinkling of crushed amaretti biscuits which was the only thing that jarred a little.
It’s all just really good straightforward food – the sort of restaurant you just wished was a few minutes walk from where you live. And the Hoole district of Chester must be a decent place to live for the area’s foodies. Within yards of the restaurant, there’s a deli, a fishmongers and a craft bakery cum cafe. Really good produce.
re: helen b
Made it there. It's smashing! The chef trained at Chez Bruce (this is his first solo venture) and it shows. Both the room (pretty, bustly, cosy, casual, romantic) and the food are like a simpler, gutsier, more informal and British CB, and it's the same sort of 'perfect local bistro' but for a younger, Northern and less loaded crowd.
Salad of roasted beets, carrots, pumpkin seeds, sticky walnuts and ricotta to start. There was a kick of something fiery in there too. I then had a melting shin of beef in an unctuous sauce with a parsnip/celeriac/mustardy cream and truffle chips, and himself had a HUGE slab of rolled and stuffed pork belly with excellent crackling on lentils with bacon. Creme brulee and a good cheese plate (Beaufort, Gaberon, Munster and Fourme d'Ambert with walnut bread and quince) to close.
All just as they should be. Only thing that was a teensy bit off the mark was the speed with which the food arrived (service was otherwise excellent). We got our starters literally 5 minutes after ordering, which smacked of being pre-plated. And then our mains 5 mins after the starters had been cleared. They were obviously done to order but it would have been nice to have more of a breather. We were the first to arrive, so the kitchen will have had time to do our table...but it felt like they wanted to get our order out of the way asap, so we were pretty much done within an hour. At a lunchtime that would have been fine, but on a wintry Friday night you want to linger a bit...
Anyway. It's a nicer problem to have than the flipside, so we will definitely be back, but maybe just ask them to take their finger off fast forward...