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Sticky Walnut and Burnt Truffle review

Sticky Walnut and Burnt Truffle review

by Gemma Harrison 16 October 2015

Gary Usher put Chester on the culinary map with his first restaurant, Sticky Walnut and has just opened a second, Burnt Truffle. Gemma Harrison made the trip to try them both.

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Gemma is Marketing Manager at Great British Chefs. She can usually be found in a restaurant, at a food festival or cooking at home.

There is a serious flaw with both Sticky Walnut and Burnt Truffle – and it is that they are four hours away from my house . . .

I first heard of Sticky Walnut thanks to Marina O’Loughlin’s Guardian review in February 2014. As someone who doesn’t travel outside of London very often, a small restaurant in Hoole (near Chester) wasn’t likely to be somewhere I’d be eating at soon – but her warmth towards this unassuming bistro led me to seek them out on Twitter, and what a Twitter account it is . . . Whether you’re interested in the hospitality industry or just like eating out, chef and owner, Gary Usher, is well worth a follow (mainly tweeting from @StickyWalnut). You’ll see everything; anecdotes about staff and customers, photos of delicious dishes, commentary on the chef shortage, as well as some hilarious Tripadvisor takedowns. Following Gary will give you a valuable insight into what it’s like running a restaurant (and you’ll be laughing out loud too) and it’ll also make you a better diner – knowing what helps and hinders both the front of house and the kitchen is invaluable. Occasionally Gary takes a self-imposed break from Twitter, understandably, the pressure of running a business and dealing with difficult customers on social media can take its toll, but managers Adam and Emma (Sticky Walnut and Burnt Truffle respectively) do a stellar job when they have to jump into the breach.

Anyway, I digress . . . In October 2014, Gary announced he’d be crowdfunding his second restaurant on Kickstarter – and I, like hundreds of others (many of whom, like me, had never even been to Sticky Walnut), wanted to be a part of it. The project reached its target and beyond, and in July 2015, Gary and his team opened Burnt Truffle in Heswall. My reward was a £100 voucher – and so one weekend, I made the trip to Chester, dining at Burnt Truffle on the Saturday night, followed by Sticky Walnut for Sunday lunch.

We were welcomed into Burnt Truffle with two glasses of Prosecco, as a thank you for supporting them – a thoughtful gesture that really set the tone of the service to follow. After hearing so much about their ‘sourdough, truffle and walnut butter’, we ordered this before even deciding on our starters. It didn’t disappoint, and was one of the best sourdoughs I’ve ever tasted, but what made this even better, was the truffle oil and walnut butter. It was so good, we had seconds.

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For starters we chose the ‘lamb’s tongue, artichoke, goat's curd and gremolata’ and the ‘chicken and pig’s head terrine, apple purée and deep fried pickles’. The chicken and pig’s head terrine had a beautiful shine and a gorgeously soft texture. It was topped with deep-fried pickled radishes, and a side of apple purée (which balanced the fine line between sweetness and acidity). The lamb’s tongue was a real surprise – as much as I love offal, my past experience of eating tongue, has been, well . . . like eating a tongue, slimy and not particularly pleasant. However, here, it had been panéed and deep-fried and you wouldn’t have guessed it was tongue, the texture was soft and the flavour was almost like pâté. Accompanied by artichoke, goat’s curd and gremolata (each cutting through the richness of the tongue), it was an utter triumph. When discussing which our favourite dish was, we broke out in heated debate; it was like asking two parents to pick their favourite child – you know you’re meant to say you love them equally, but secretly you love one just a little bit more.

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Lamb’s tongue, artichoke, goat's curd and gremolata
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Chicken and pig’s head terrine, apple purée and deep fried pickles

For the main, we chose a rather majestic looking ‘Cote de Boeuf with béarnaise sauce, watercress and truffle and Parmesan chips’. It was swoon-worthingly good – we began to wonder if in fact it was better than the efforts of the famed London steakhouse group, Hawksmoor (high praise in the world of steak cooking). The truffle and Parmesan chips put regular chips to shame, although a special mention must go to the sauces, not only béarnaise, but bone marrow and beefy gravy too – all three were exceptional. I will probably be sorely disappointed in future restaurants at what will be mere shadows of these sauces. For dessert, we had some tough choices to make, because you aren’t let down by the pastry section here. As a compromise, we chose three: ‘banana parfait, chocolate and peanut brittle, caramel ice cream’, ‘sticky toffee pudding, toffee sauce and walnut semi-freddo’ and ‘blackberry frangipane tart, crème fraîche sorbet’. Each impressed in its own way – pushed for a favourite, I would choose the sticky toffee pudding, if only by a whisker.

 
 
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Cote de Boeuf, béarnaise, watercress and truffle and parmesan chips
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Oven roast baby beets, walnut praline, fresh goat’s curd, spicy pumpkin seeds

We left Burnt Truffle full to the brim, but luckily managed to recover our appetites in time for Sunday lunch at Sticky Walnut. We were given what I think was the best table in the restaurant – in full view of the kitchen and next to a shelf crammed with amazing cookbooks and wine (I think need to get myself one of those). Before I go further, one thing needs to be said – Sunday lunch at Sticky Walnut is ridiculously good value for money. At 3 courses for £20, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. I briefly considered moving to Chester.

For starters we chose ‘chicken liver pâté, apricot and cumin chutney, toasted focaccia’ and ‘oven roast baby beets, walnut praline, fresh goat’s curd, spicy pumpkin seeds’. Both were excellent, although highlights had to be the chutney (who knew apricot and cumin seeds worked so well?) and the walnut praline, which added a hint of sweetness and crunch to the soft beetroot and curd.

 
 
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Roast beef, green beans, carrot purée, kale, roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding
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Rolled and stuffed pork belly, crispy crackling and pearl barley

I’d not had a proper roast dinner for ages, and so I was quite excited about the prospect of Sticky Walnut’s beef with all the trimmings. They over-delivered on my expectations – the meat was perfectly cooked, the roast potatoes were crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, the carrot purée was velvety-smooth and the beans and kale absolutely spot on. As at Burnt Truffle, they excelled with the sauce – probably the best gravy I’ve ever tasted. I honestly don’t know how they packed in so much flavour and got such a beautiful sheen. I’m not a fan of Yorkshire puddings (to my boyfriend’s advantage), but he assured me it was perfect. The second main was ‘rolled and stuffed pork belly, crispy crackling and pearl barley’ – and here it was the stuffing that really shone, although the pearl barley deserves an honourable mention too (along with another sensational sauce).

We just about had room for dessert, and decided on the ‘raspberry cheesecake, pecan butter biscuit and raspberry jam’ and the ‘chocolate ganache, poached cherries and cassis sorbet’. To our surprise, the cheesecake came deconstructed – but not in the way which makes you sigh in mourning for the real thing. Each of the component parts were miles better than any regular cheesecake, especially the pecan butter biscuit. The chocolate ganache was intensely rich, but wonderfully offset by the poached cherries and cassis sorbet.

 
 
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Raspberry cheesecake, pecan butter biscuit and raspberry jam
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Chocolate ganache, poached cherries and cassis sorbet

Front of house so often go unmentioned in restaurant reviews, and Adam and Emma have built solid teams in both venues. Utterly charming and with a passion for the restaurants, they all seem to magically appear whenever you need them. I asked in both restaurants which wines the staff would personally pick to accompany certain dishes and they came up trumps every time. When the team have the knowledge – use them. I often find myself being taken down a totally different path to what I would have chosen myself, and it almost always results in some brilliant new discoveries.

With a third restaurant on the cards near Manchester, I’ll certainly be planning a trip when it’s ready (covering all three, of course). In the meantime, I’ll stick to following the thrills and spills on Twitter, whether Gary’s running the account or not. As long as he’s still behind the stoves, everything will be just fine.

Learn more about Sticky Walnut and Burnt Truffle, and follow them on Twitter for a fantastic insight into the industry.

 
 
 

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