Sticky Walnut in Chester is the much talked about and first restaurant of young talented chef / proprietor Gary Usher.
Open since January 2010, the chef and his team have been quietly winning over a loyal local following, whilst gaining an increasing regional and even national recognition – their most recent accolade, a “Catey” aka ‘Industry Oscar’ for the ‘Best Menu’.
Previously having worked at the Michelin starred Chez Bruce and Chapter One in London, Gary’s food is starting to get the appreciation it deserves – I’m sure many local fans will be a little annoyed that I am one of a growing number of commentators letting their secret out of the bag!
What Michelin say: The typically understated entry in the 2013 Michelin guide reads: ‘Run by a confident young team, a quirky, slightly bohemian restaurant in a residential parade of shops. Concise menus feature quality ingredients in a mix of British, French and Italian dishes.’
What we ate:
Rosemary & thyme focaccia – (shared) served warm with the lightest of toastings and drizzled with quality olive oil, the bread (which is made in house) hinted that the rest of the meal would be top.
Oven roast beets, sticky walnuts, spicy pumpkin seeds & ricotta – (my stepdaughter’s) a fresh, summery and perfectly balanced dish with the subtle spicing of the pumpkins seeds and namesake candied walnuts.
Chilled tomato gazpacho, toasted focaccia & salsa verde – (mine) another fresh, summery dish with an excellent salsa verde and more of the delicious focaccia.
Sea bream ceviche, chilli, cucumber salad, avocado & crushed hazelnuts – (my wife’s) as in the other starters, a well balanced dish showcasing excellent produce.
Pea & broad bean risotto, cavolo nero & gaperon cheese – (stepdaughter’s) a beautiful creamy risotto – topping with the crispy deep fried cavolo nero and gaperon cheese is a touch of genius.
Thinly sliced ox tongue, lamb croquettes, truffle mayonnaise & baby artichokes – (mine) wonderful rich fibrous ox tongue with rich crispy shredded lamb croquettes and earthy artichokes.
Homemade salmon ballotine, deep fried egg, peas & broad beans – (my wife’s) a joyously cooked egg with top-notch salmon with a simple warm salad of pea, broad been and salasa verde.
Quail wellington, spiced green beans & treacle fried legs – (stepdaughter’s) the quail was faultlessly cooked inside delicious shortcrust pastry with a glossy jus… the treacle fried legs were a revelation.
Cashel blue arancini, poached pears, creamed spinach & walnuts – (both myself & my wife) the best arancini I’ve ever had… a crisp crumb, full of perfectly cooked rice, seasoned beautifully with the creamy Cashel blue cheese. The creamed spinach, poached pears and walnuts all brought something good to the party. Hand cut truffle & parmesan chips – (shared) the chef has worked for Jamie Oliver who is also famed for his truffle & parmesan chips… for me, Gary Usher’s were way better!
Strawberries & cream – (stepdaughter’s) I didn’t taste this one but it looked the part and my stepdaughter loved it.
Chocolate macaroon, cookie crumbs, salted caramel & passion fruit – (mine) on paper this should have been a favourite… the chocolate ganache was impeccable; I adore macarons and love salted caramel and passion fruit but, for me, the dish lacked harmony.
Crème brûlée – (my wife’s) an excellent vanilla laden crème brûlée.
Food high points: there was so much quality on offer, it’s hard to pick one or two standout dishes. As a balanced dish, the Oven roast beets were hard to beat (no pun intended); the quality of the Ox tongue was exceptional and the Arancini were the best I’ve had… the Truffle & parmesan chips are another must!
Food low points: as mentioned, the one dish that didn’t work for me was the Chocolate macaroon, salted caramel & passion fruit – I found each of the components excellent but the balance of the salty caramel and sharp tropical passion fruit was not right for me.
Décor / ambience: a relaxed bistro styling with wooden floors and tables. The walls are decorated with frames menus from the chefs foodie travels and shelves with aspirational cookbooks.
Service: like the food, the service was well balanced – friendly and informal, yet professional and competent.
Verdict (Would I return?): Quite simply, Sticky Walnut is one of the best bistro style / local restaurants I have visited… for me, the food was easily on a par with the likes of London’s Medlar or Septime in Paris. It’s well worth the 45 minute or so journey down the road from Manchester.