In Review

The Walnut Tree review: a Michelin-starred restaurant that’s simply ‘bloody great’

At this restaurant near Abergavenny in Wales, chef Shaun Hill is serving up food with exceptional and pure flavours

“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 going deep into chef Shaun Hill’s career and approach. And, with Hill touching 50 years in the kitchen, that could take a while. 

Hill is known as the “chef’s chef,” and it’s not hard to see why. His menu is a regularly changing celebration, essentially, of what he wants to eat, made from seasonal ingredients sourced from nearby. The technique is obvious and undeniable, the flavours exceptional and pure, the inspirations global yet restrained. Hill calls what he does “the rough side of Michelin” and, well, even Michelin agrees. Hill’s plates are free of the frills and frippery you might associated with starred-dining and, in appearance, closer to elevated (but still robust) pub grub than something gunning for a tyre company’s recognition, and yet he’s held a star for 12 years. The reason? His food is simply bloody great. 

Rack of lamb with broad beans and sweetbread pie is on the menu at The Walnut Tree

Rack of lamb with broad beans and sweetbread pie is on the menu

The room is no-nonsense, the furniture is functional, the team charming and efficient, and the menu is short and relatively straightforward. There’s no jus of that or foam of this listed, just no-nonsense 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’ll deliver is so much more than the sum of those parts. Veal sweetbreads with smoked sausage and sauerkraut, for example. On the page, a hint of choucroute. On the plate and on the tongue… it’s choucroute to the nth degree, a trio of perfectly cooked ingredients, a finely executed balance of fat and salt and acidity. Similarly, red mullet with dashi broth. Fish that’s just on the point of cooked, a broth of surprising depth and subtle umami. It would be easy to try and dress this up, throw more into the mix, and that wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, just different. But to have the balls to keep it so pure, so straightforward? That’s something special. 

Steamed John Dory in a spiced broth is on the menu at The Walnut Tree

Steamed John Dory in a spiced broth

“Rabbit loin and faggot with champ and malt vinegar”. I mean… You just would, wouldn’t you? Well, no, not you, vegans, so don’t write in, but the rest of us… Again that mix of richness and acidity, the proper celebration of the hero ingredient (and the offal-y bunny bits). It’s clever without being flashy, and there’s not a thing on the plate that doesn’t deserve to be there. I should tell you about the halibut – I could wax lyrical for hours about the halibut – but, frankly, you’ve got the point, right? If you haven’t, I’ll happily go on about it some (and hell, I’ve not even mentioned puddings) but, I’m running out of words that express the joyous directness of what Shaun Hill does. If you’ve not been, go. Possibly soon – the man’s been cooking for 50 years, he’s got to call it a day sometime – but you really should go. The Walnut Tree is simply bloody great. 

The Walnut Tree Inn, Llanddewi Skirrid, Abergavenny NP7 8AW Wales; thewalnuttreeinn.com

Chef Shaun Hill has held a Michelin star for 12 years

Chef Shaun Hill has held a Michelin star since 2010

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