Leeds to Chester by train’s a right arse-ache of a journey, but one worth tolerating if you get your kicks from incessant rain, good food and/or hanging around somewhere a-bit-like-York.
Sticky Walnut’s a 15 minute amble from the centre and is, let’s not piss about, as good as all the stuff we’d read prior to our own pilgrimage.
We roll up for lunch on a packed Monday, and quickly conclude that this lot must be on bezzie-buddy terms with some tip-top suppliers.
You can’t use the duff stuff in Beef Tartar. This wodge (£8) of succulent, minced cow – sharpened with a spiky hit of capers and shallots through the mix – still had plenty of deep, beefy bite.
And no, it’s not “like jelly”, squeemos.
The accompanying parmesan and polenta chips – crispy outside/smooth inside – had the textures of posh Smiley Faces for grown ups, (a compliment, that, obviously,) and added a crispy bite to the buttery beef.
A dense, gamey pate (£6) was cut through with tart, not too sweet, rhubarb chutney. That crunchy, well-oiled foccacia they both got slathered onto was a winner.
Rugged shin of beef (£10) came with a glaze so sticky and unctuous that it should be available to purchase by the bottle and used to bath in. Preferring to keep things ‘street’, a puree (soz, Gaz, ‘poo-ray’) is about as far as they go with gadgets and gizmos here, and a slick of this butternut squash stuff adds a hum of earthy goodness.
Roast hake (£12) gets filed immediately as a contender in the “Best Thing Eaten This Year” category. Given that the challenger for said title is ‘boiled eggs with marmite soldiers’, (a revelation), gives some indication as to how good that piece of fish must have been. And t’was.
Crisp of skin and tender of flesh, a forked nudge of encouragement was just enough for the sheeny flakes to start falling apart. Still meaty, though, and seasoned with a generous hand; this was a cracker.
Mildly concerned that the accompanying braised fennel and zesty, spring veg broth sounded a bit virtuous, (though, actually, another bit of top-drawer, savoury liquor that should be bottled) we, naturally, ordered chips to go alongside. Good ‘uns, too.
Undoubtedly, substance wins out over showiness here, (praise ye the lord), and everything we scoffed had been thoughtfully balanced, but there’s a healthy dose of style throughout, too.
A honeycomb dessert is presented simply but must be a labour of technical love (aka ‘a right bitch’) to nail it like they do; all toothy crunch and creamy richness. Like the best show-offs, they’ve just made it look easy.
Parkin comes with a plate-lickingly-rich butterscotch sauce, the lot so light it’s practically inhaled. Both desserts: a fiver.
Given the compact nature of the place, the dining room has an unfussy, down-to-business feel about it and, accordingly, front of house run a tight, professional ship. Service, like the scran, is neat, orderly and exacting but never cold or clinical; the whole operation’s warmly efficient.
Granted this is lunch, where good deals are to be had, but a quick butchers at the evening menu suggests that prices don’t jump massively. And you know it’s going to be the good stuff.
Given t’other place we went to over there, HS2 suddenly looks like a pretty good idea if it makes Chester less of a ballache to reach.