For those of you who are just here to read about the food, I suggest you skip down to here **. Right, still here? Are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin. I, like many others, contributed to the Kickstarter funding for Gary Usher’s latest venture, Pinion Bistro in Prescot, and in return, received a voucher to use in one of his other restaurants – we chose Sticky Walnut.
So as the school holidays came to an end, Red (the wife) and I were accompanied by our friends, Vincenzo and Lady Furness, on the drive over to Hoole, Chester. We decided to arrive early and try a few local bars. This in itself was a genuinely unique experience! First up we went to The Suburbs this is a self-described “cool and quirky neighbourhood cocktail bar”, and it is, with an intimate eatery next door. Here we received a warm welcome and were immersed in what appeared to be a Hawaiian / Caribbean theme, though whether this was just for that night or a regular thing I don’t know.
Anyway, a couple of Lightfoot lagers and two quirky cocktails soon had us happy and settled in the window chatting away about all things ranging from why was everyone coming in wearing leis and what a nice area Charles Street is, through to fear and admiration for the efforts our friend, Special Agent Clay, goes to in tracking the whereabouts and communications of her teenage son – think a cross between a glamorous Mrs Slocombe (with her double entendres), with Eddie Large’s hair and Liam Neeson’s character in Taken. If she took over the Mueller case looking into Russian collusion, our Donny would be sharing a cell with some interesting characters, wishing he could very quickly build his own wall.
Despite enjoying the atmosphere and drinks here, we made a fateful decision to move on somewhere else. Wandering down the street we decided to avoid one place with a couple of Phil Mitchell characters smoking outside, couldn’t find a seat in another and, just as we were regretting moving, we spotted The Royal Oak. This is a more traditional boozer that has avoided the wider modernisation that many other pubs have gone through, and still has a series of small rooms to drink in. The actual service and drinks were very good, cheap and pleasant. However, the ladies found some seats in one of the very small rooms at the front and, in a scene reminiscent of the one in An American Werewolf in London (watch here ), we sat down. Feeling as welcome as Sadiq Khan and Diane Abbott at a Free Tommy Robinson march, we sat and sipped. Not that the 6 men in the room said or did anything, but we just knew this part of the pub was a local room for local people, and we were sat in someone’s seat.
The one positive, however, was the very small room had a very large telly showing racing which poor Vincenzo was sat under, allowing him to ask, quite legitimately as the locals stared at him, “Have I got a telly on my head?” Now I don’t know much about horse racing but, at the Goon Club, mix with friends, such as Kermi and Elvis, who do. So, feeling unable to chat properly in our reduced environment and thinking Terry Waite probably had it lucky, he only had his radiator to worry about, I decided to use this limited knowledge and invest in one of the races. Long story short, it won at 14-1, at which point we all did a mini-fist pump, drank up and left the League of Gentlemen to await the arrival of Tubbs.
**So we eventually arrived at The Sticky Walnut, a small and pleasant dining room on two levels accommodating probably about 12 to 15 tables overall. We were greeted and seated by our waitress in a window seat. Drinks were ordered: cosmo for Red – very well made, whilst Vincenzo and I opted for the choice of Blackjack beers named after each of Gary’s restaurants – he had the Hispi Lager, clean fresh and not too hoppy, whilst I had the Wreckfish Scale Ale Pale Ale. Then to accompany the meal we opted for a bottle of Vina del Oja 2012 Rioja Reserva, which was excellent.
The menu was interesting, with a great choice of dishes to please most tastes. Our selections were:
Me: crab tortelli, green tomato, chilled cucumber and elderflower broth / whole roast Norfolk quail, smoked sweetcorn, prune, barbecue sauce and pommes dauphine
Red and Lady Furness both chose: chicken liver pate, apricot and orange chutney, toasted brioche / braised feather blade, blackberries, watercress, truffle and parmesan chips
Vincenzo: silver mullet, soused carrot, pattypan squash, horseradish / roast pork tenderloin, salt baked pineapple, aubergine, tamarind and white bean puree
My crab tortelli were excellent: quite intense sinful flavour of crab in a soft, warm tortelli which was balanced nicely against the cold redemption of the light, beautifully salty fresh broth. Vincenzo enjoyed his mullet, which he said was perfectly cooked and described the horseradish as perfectly complementing the dish like Dalglish and Rush. As for the chicken liver pate – well firstly full marks for having enough brioche to cope with it (why do some restaurants serve you a skip load of pate with half a melba toast?!?) but here the doorstep chunk of toasted brioche was more than able to accommodate the pate which was delicious, though both of the ladies would have liked a touch more of the delicious chutney in the dish.
Unless you are in one of those tourist strip restaurants, with pictures of each meal on a plastic menu, then you are never really sure what your meal is going to look like. This was certainly the case for me ordering the ‘whole roast Norfolk quail’. wondering how ‘whole’ it was going to be (and having just returned from a holiday in rural France, I can assure you they do whole whole including everything from the beak to the, well to the hole!). Fortunately there was no need for me to perform minor surgery as I was presented with a beautifully looking dish of food, containing the right bits of the quail! This was a stunningly delicious plate of food. The quail breast was dense yet moist, packed with flavour whilst the legs had a crispier lighter feel to them with their accompanying crumb. The sumptious sweetness of the prune enhanced the gaminess of the quail and the smoked corn was delicious. Finally the potatoes were light, fluffy and just enough to mop up the final splashes of the sweet jus.
Feedback on the other dishes was as follows: Vincenzo on the pork tenderloin – “well cooked pork was very good and the salt baked pineapple was like waking up with a hangover to find a treasure left by your loved one”. I have no idea what that means but is clearly a positive recommendation. As for the Feather Blade as you would expect this was a dense and luxurious piece of slow cooked meat accompanied by an equally dark fruity sweet sauce that screams ‘sitting by the fire on cold winter evenings’ and comfort on a plate. Meanwhile the truffle and parmesan chips are crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy in the middle. Red felt the truffle was a little overpowering but the rest of us didn’t, and they soon disappeared, as did the honey roasted carrots which were soft and sweet, but not overly so.
With limited room left in our larders, Vincenzo and I decided to share a cheeseboard (consisting of Gubbeen, Sharpham, Pennard Ridge Red and Perl Las), whilst red opted for the passion fruit cheesecake, caramelised white chocolate and passion fruit sorbet whilst Lady Furness, finding an admiral capacity in her larder, went for the vanilla rice pudding, amaretti biscuit, nectarine and lemon thyme.
Our verdicts: cheese was a delicious selection (my favourite being the creamy, gentle salty Perl Las blue cheese), the apricot pate de fruit was not too sharp and worked well especially with the blue, and the prune and walnut bread was a perfect delivery vehicle for the cheese.
As for Red’s cheesecake, she was slightly disappointed – not about the taste or flavour – it was wonderful, especially the caramelised white chocolate. It was the fact it was a ‘deconstructed’ cheesecake rather than the traditional and the menu didn’t say that! I did ask if she enjoyed it – yes, would she have ordered – yes. I don’t think we will ever fully understand the female brain, maybe those restaurants with the pictures of the food might be more her thing!
Finally, Lady Furness’ rice pudding was luxury itself: sugary gingery croutons adorning very creamy rice pudding, with a subtle hint of nutmeg. She was happy.
Overall this was an excellent meal as you would expect from one of Britain’s leading restaurateurs. Service throughout the evening was excellent with many nice touches, not least the staff knowing who had ordered each dish and placing them without the need to ask – I know I bang on about service but these small things make evenings much more enjoyable and Gary has got it spot on with his staff here. The food was superb from start to finish and prices are very reasonable for the high standard and quality on offer.
As we left, Lady Furness pointed out that on her previous visit, the whole of Charles Street was lit up with fairy lights, sadly this wasn’t the case tonight but at least there was a full moon to light our way, and a strange howling coming from the direction of Royal Oak. We decided to stay on the path and off the moors on our way home!
Type: High end restaurant
Service: 9.5/10 very good throughout and good menu knowledge
Atmosphere: 9/10 small but welcoming.
Food: 9.5/10 delicious from start to finish, quail in particular.
Value for money: 9/10 and helped by my win on the horses!
Overall: 9.5 A restaurant that is on top of its game in all areas. Excellent.
These are judged against the best of that type of restaurant. For example cafes against what you would expect from the best cafes, high end restaurants against the best high end restaurants etc.
Website: Sticky Walnut