Like many restaurateurs, Chef Gary Usher, owner of Sticky Walnut, Burnt Truffle, Hispi, Wreckfish, Pinion and Kala pivoted to selling restaurant meal kits to enjoy at home, delivered by courier nationwide. It wasn’t an easy process – prepping meals to be chilled and posted nationwide, and finished and assembled by amateur home cooks – but he excelled and the kits, marketed as Elite Bistro at Home, did (and are still doing) enormously well.
When it was time to re-open the restaurants in 2021, Usher ran a crowdfunding campaign to support the creation of a dedicated kitchen that would allow him to continue selling the restaurant boxes alongside his restaurant business, as well as a catering service. With hospitality so severely affected by the pandemic, he understood the wisdom of diversifying income streams to better withstand any future events that might shut down his restaurants once again, and having successfully crowdfunded to support the launch of some of those properties, knew how to leverage this method of raising capital.
Food lovers across the UK answered Usher’s call and helped him to raise £172k, a cool £22k above his goal. I was one of those supporters, and my pledge rewarded me with a £50 voucher to be used in any of the restaurants, or against an Elite Bistro at Home order. As all the bistros offer a lunch menu that’s £23 for 3 courses, this can readily cover a meal for two, or be used towards an evening meal (priced at £42).
I wanted to combine our visit to Sticky Walnut with a weekend city break to Chester, and booked two nights in boutique bed and breakfast Stone Villa Chester, located in Hoole and just 5 minutes walk from the restaurant. I recommend this hotel, by the way – rooms are attractive and comfortable, breakfast is good, there is free parking available, and the location is very quiet despite being surrounded by restaurants, cafes and bars. It’s also only 20 minutes walk from the centre of Chester.
Always nice to be served some good quality bread to start, and the focaccia provided as we order drinks and read the menu is excellent.
The dinner menu is priced at £42 for 3 courses (with 2 courses for £36) but note that one or two dishes carry a supplement.
Pete’s starter of chicken liver pate is generous and excellent. Served with a generous spoonful of farmhouse chutney, and a wholemeal sourdough toast, it’s smooth and rich and delicious.
My lamb fat potato terrine is topped with a precariously balanced poached hen’s egg, harissa mayonnaise and a pile of crispy lamb’s breast. The terrine, egg and mayo are all wonderful but I find the lamb breast has been taken too far, so it’s really dry and lacking in flavour. It’s the only duff note of the meal for me, and is probably down to personal taste – I’m the same with bacon which I love best when the fat is crisped and brown but the meat still has a little softness and flavour to it.
Pete’s salmon fillet comes with braised leeks, crispy potato puffs, Jerusalem artichoke and pink peppercorn sauce. Once again, everything is beautifully cooked, the flavours and texture complement each other well and that sauce is a killer – why do so many menus restrict peppercorn sauces to steak, when they work so well with fish too?
I order the pan roasted Merrifield duck breast from the daily special, which adds £10 to the set price for three courses. It comes with honey glazed turnip, grelot onions, red wine sauce and hazelnut, and is delicious but is a huge portion of duck (given how rich the whole dish is), and personally I’d prefer less meat and a smaller supplement! The turnip and onion are both wonderfully sweet in flavour and pair beautifully with the perfectly-cooked duck.
Creme brulee is a very good example; its rich smooth custard – abundantly-flecked with vanilla and not over-sweet – is coated with just the right amount of shatteringly good caramelised sugar.
My warm ginger parkin comes with smoked treacle butterscotch sauce, and creme fraiche ice cream. That butterscotch sauce is a thing of beauty (though the smokiness is very subtle) with a decent kick of bitterness from properly caramelised sugar that helps to counter to intense sweetness. I adore the sharpness of the creme fraiche ice cream, which makes a perfect foil to the sauce too. The parkin itself is delicious in flavour but has an odd texture as though it’s full of granary seeds. It’s a good pudd though, even though I don’t manage to clear the whole plate!
Afterwards, a piece of chocolate fudge for each diner, a lovely treat to finish.
It’s not just the food (and the company) that makes our visit to Sticky Walnut such a good evening. Service is particularly good, delivered by attentive, friendly and well-informed staff who are knowledgeable about the dishes and happy to help.