Situated on the outskirts of Abergavenny, the Walnut Tree has a long history as a culinary destination in Wales, with Shaun Hill as the current head chef. Shaun has a glowing culinary reputation over a lengthy career, having been head chef at The Capital Hotel in London from 1976-1977, then at Blakes and the Lygon Arms, before really cementing his reputation as head chef at Gidleigh Park from 1985 to 1994. He then branched out on his own at The Merchant House at Ludlow from 1995 – 2004, before moving to The Walnut Tree in 2007. We were fortunate enough to have a lengthy chat with Shaun after our meal, and he is an entertaining and witty man.
The building itself dates from Victorian times, and has an outside toilet, which must be an interesting experience on a wet winter night. The dining room has a stone floor in the bar area, brown carpet in the dining room, with cream walls and large tables with no tablecloths. Nibbles of sausage roll (warn, tasty) and Thai fish ball (deep fried, with good batter, plenty of fish flavour and a little chilli kick) appeared as we sat down to look at the menu (15/20).
The 11 page wine list started at £23 as was modestly priced, with wines such as Innocent Bystander 2009 at £27 for a wine that retails at £9, Felton Road 2007 at £55 for a wine you can find in the shops for £30, while Clos Veugot 2002 was £135 for a wine you can find for £96 in the shops. Bread was served warm and comprised excellent milk bread and a lovely brown bread with pumpkin seeds (17/20).
I began with roast quail, carefully cooked and served with grapes (providing useful acidity to balance the richness of the quail), lettuce, a good jus and little bits of bacon (strong 15/20). Crab salad was made with mayonnaise and came with a hint of spice, served with toast, lettuce, watercress and tomato. The crab was fresh and the dish well executed (14/20).
A good slab of halibut was timed well and served with a beurre blanc, new potatoes, green beans and a little samphire. Good, simple cooking (15/20). My rabbit pithivier featured good pastry and moist, carefully cooked rabbit meat, with julienned vegetables and excellent, rich jus. On the side were the rabbit liver and kidneys, also carefully cooked (16/20).
Lime curd and mango tart was lovely, a rich curd filling with just enough acidity from the lime, very ripe Alphonso mango and nice pastry (a strong 16/20). Gingered nectarine and blueberry pudding was essentially a summer pudding, but made with nectarines instead of red fruits. This worked very well indeed, the nectarines excellent, a sugar syrup giving sweetness, and brioche bread (toasted to avoid the bread being too flabby), with a hint of ginger; lovely (comfortably 16/20).
Coffee was rather bitter. Petit fours of ginger chocolates had creamy centres with a little stem ginger and were pleasant, but the hazelnut crunch suffered from slightly stale hazelnuts (just about 14/20). The bill came to £46 per person ordering from the a la carte, with no alcohol. Fior me this was between 15/20 and 16/20 cooking, and throroughly enjoyable. The restaurant was deservedly packed on a weekday lunch.
@genuiness that would be telling 😀