“Elegant dining” is how The Walnut Tree describes its…philosophy? Ethos? Mission? To be fair, that’s about as good a description as you’ll find, without delving into Chef Shaun Hill’s career and approach. And, with Hill touching 50 in the kitchen, that might 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 of, essentially, what he wants to eat, using seasonal ingredients sourced from the region. The technique is obvious and undeniable, the flavors exceptional and pure, the inspirations global but sober. Hill calls what he does “the rough side of Michelin” and, well, even Michelin agrees. Hill’s plates are free of the frills and frills you might associate with Michelin-starred restaurants and, on the surface, more akin to elevated (but still robust) pub grub than something that seeks recognition from a tire company. , and yet he has held a star for 12 years. The reason? His food is simply excellent.
The room is sober, the furniture is functional, the team charming and efficient, and the menu is short and relatively simple. There’s no Juice of this or moss of this list, just no-nonsense descriptions of, essentially, nine words or less that tell you exactly what you’re getting. Well, it tells you what key ingredients you’re getting, because what they will provide is more than the sum of those parts. Veal sweetbreads with smoked sausage and sauerkraut for example. On the page, a hint of sauerkraut. On the plate and on the tongue… it’s sauerkraut to the nth degree, a trio of perfectly cooked ingredients, a finely crafted balance between fat and salt and acidity. Likewise, red mullet in dashi broth. fish is fair just about done, a broth of surprising depth and subtle umami. It would be easy to try to dress that up, add more, and it wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, just different. But have the balls to keep it so pure, so simple? It’s something special.
“Rabbit loin and fagot in field and malt vinegar”. I mean… You would, wouldn’t you? Well, no, not you vegans, so don’t write, but the rest of us… Again that blend of richness and tartness, the appropriate celebration of the hero ingredient (and chunks of offal rabbit). It’s smart 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 get lyrical for hours on halibut – but, frankly, you get the idea, don’t you? If not, I’d happily talk about it (and damn it, I didn’t even mention the puddings) but I’m at a loss for words that express the joyous candor of what Shaun Hill does. If you haven’t been there, leave. Maybe soon – the man has been cooking for 50 years, he has to call it a day sometimes – but you really should go. Walnut is just awesome.
The Walnut Tree Inn, Llanddewi Skirrid, Abergavenny NP7 8AW Wales; thewalnuttreeinn.com