Now I realise I’ve not exhausted all the dining options in Bristol yet, let alone England but the offer of a visit to The Walnut Tree was too good to pass up when I was in Abergavenny for the weekend at the food festival. Shaun Hill, formerly of the highly esteemed Merchant House in Ludlow has been at the helm of The Walnut Tree for the last few years and has recently been awarded a Michelin star for his efforts. A short drive outside the town, the place is very unassuming upon arrival. This certainly isn’t your stereotypical Michelin-starred restaurant, you won’t find any starched white table cloths, austere waiters and people talking in hushed tones here, and it’s all the better for it in my opinion. Oh yes, and lest I forget, you have to go outside to find the privy, I kid you not.
Moving swiftly on to the food..
If the appetisers were anything to go by then we were in for a treat. Bite-sized fish arancini, which evoked memories of last years hols in Sicily and stilton and sesame topped biscuits which had the most wonderful crumbly texture, were simply delightful.
And when it came to choosing the courses I was spoilt for choice, I don’t think there was anything on the menu that didn’t tickle my tastebuds. On my mission to try new foods and enrich my palate, I went for the veal sweetbreads to start. Until fairly recently, like a lot of people, I was under the misapprehension that they were a part of the animal I most certainly never wish to dine on. After much reassurance that they were definitely the thymus gland I still wasn’t sure what to expect but I was very pleasantly surprised. They just melted in the mouth and were served with an interesting accompaniment of saukerkraut. So far, so tasty..
For main it had to be the wild duck with parmentier potatoes, celeriac puree and a morel sauce. The meat was very succulent and had a really intense flavour. And they didn’t stint on the portion either, serving the breast and two confit legs. Even I struggled to finish which is saying something. It was lucky for me then that there was a twenty minute wait on the dessert of choice, chocolate pithivier. It was a chocoholics fantasy pud; an island of the flakiest pastry, containing a rich chocolate fondant and surrounded by a pool of lusciously smooth milk chocolate sauce. In this instance, a moment on the lips was so worth a lifetime on the hips.
Now i’m no wine connoisseur but I must take a moment to sing the praises of the wine. We plumped for a Pinot Noir from Australian producer, Innocent Bystander which I would heartily recommend. And then, for dessert we spotted a pink moscato by the same producer which was equally quaffable.
It’s the little touches that can make the distinction between a good dining experience and a great one and this was certainly the latter – things such as warm bread rolls, softened butter and efficient but not officious service. I’d say that Michelin star was well deserved Mr Hill, this place is a Welsh wonder.