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From stunning seaside eateries to gastronomic temples, Square Meal travels the country to discover the UK’s best restaurants
The Walnut Tree
Llanddewi Skirrid, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire
For 35 years, The Walnut Tree was one of the most famous restaurants in the UK. Original owners Franco and Ann Taruschio sold up in 2000 and this beacon of provincial dining dimmed, reaching a low point with a drubbing on Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares in 2004 and closure in February 2007.
Happily, its demise was short-lived, and The Walnut Tree sprouted back into life last November, when it was bought by Shaun Hill who, since selling his Michelin-starred Merchant House in Ludlow in 2005, has been working as a restaurant consultant.
In its new incarnation, The Walnut Tree still proves that an independently minded restaurant can succeed in the middle of the countryside. There’s nothing fancy about the surroundings (undressed tables, a bit of art, lemon trees that recall the restaurant’s Italian past) or the service, which is friendly and local. A few fancy ingredients appear on the menu (morels partnering English asparagus, halibut with mussels, clams and saffron), but the emphasis is on artful simplicity and ample satisfaction: the sweetest flakes of white crab meat set off by a gentle basil mayo, followed by plump slices of roast squab pigeon breast, with the richly flavoured legs shredded and presented in a paper-thin pastry pastilla – a piece of culinary accomplishment that reminds diners of Hill’s pedigree and why main courses are just shy of £20. For that price, you can also enjoy a terrific three-course set lunch, culminating in a Bakewell tart of unimpeachable almondy moistness.
So make a weekend of it and visit Abergavenny’s famous food festival in September or take a gastro-tour of Monmouthshire’s other restaurants (page 56). Just don’t forget to book a table here.
This is a compact list of around 50 wines divided into groups such as ‘Core’ and ‘Classics’. Although this does not sound like many bins, what is here has been judiciously selected, meaning that many of the world’s great winemakers are represented. A good number of the wines are by the glass and half-bottle, while the pricing, particularly if you trade up, is fabulous value. All in all, a near faultless selection. BEST BUYS WHITE 2005 Dr Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany, £24. RED 2004 Felton Road Pinot Noir Otago, New Zealand, £39.