“Elegant Dining” is how The Walnut Tree describes its… philosophy? ethos? Mission? To be fair, it’s as good a description as you’ll find without digging deep into Chef Shaun Hill’s career and approach. And with Hill stirring 50 years in the kitchen, that might be a while.
Hill is known as “The Chef,” and it’s not hard to see why. His menu is essentially a regularly changing celebration of what he likes to eat, prepared with locally sourced seasonal ingredients. The technique is obvious and undeniable, the flavors exceptional and pure, the inspirations global yet understated. Hill calls what he does “the rough side of Michelin,” and even Michelin agrees. Free from the frills and frills you might associate with starred restaurants, Hill’s Teller resembles more upscale (but still sturdy) pub grub than something aiming for tire manufacturer recognition, and yet it’s been 12 years old a star. The reason? His food is just freaking awesome.
The space is unfussy, the furniture functional, the team charming and efficient, the menu short and relatively straightforward. There is no just of that or foam of those listed, only factual descriptions of essentially nine words or less that tell you exactly what you’re getting. Well, that tells you what key ingredients you’re getting, because what they deliver is so much more than the sum of those parts. Veal sweetbreads with smoked sausage and sauerkraut, for example. A hint of sauerkraut on the side. On the plate and on the tongue… it’s sauerkraut at its best, a trio of perfectly cooked ingredients, a finely crafted balance of fat and salt and acidity. Likewise red mullet with dashi broth. fish that is just In short, a broth of surprising depth and subtle umami. It would be easy to try to dress this up, throw more into the mix, and that wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, just different. But having the balls to keep it so pure, so direct? This is something special.
“Rabbit Saddle and Twigs with Mushrooms and Malt Vinegar”. I mean… you would just do it, wouldn’t you? Well, no, not you vegans, so don’t write, but the rest of us… Again, that mix of richness and acidity, the fitting celebration of the hero ingredient (and offal-esque bunny bits). It’s clever without being flashy, and there’s nothing on the plate that doesn’t deserve to be there. I should tell you about the halibut – I could go into raptures hours about the halibut – but honestly, you get it, right? If not, I’ll happily continue talking about it (and heck, I haven’t even mentioned puddings yet), but I’m running out of words to capture the joyful directness of what Shaun Hill is doing. If you haven’t been, go. Possibly soon – the man has been cooking for 50 years, he’ll have to call it a day – but you really should go. The walnut tree is just freaking awesome.
The Walnut Tree Inn, Llanddewi Skirrid, Abergavenny NP7 8AW Wales; thewalnuttreeinn.com
https://www.theweek.co.uk/arts-life/food-drink/956341/the-walnut-tree-review-michelin-starred-restaurant Restaurant Rating: The Walnut Tree Inn, Llanddewi Skirrid, Abergavenny