Sticky Walnut, Hoole

My grandmother used to live in Hoole. It wasn’t very cool then; as kids our dining highlight was lunch in the Morrison’s cafe. We haven’t changed much – my sister and I still bicker incessantly after a few hours in each other’s company, and my dad still thinks it’s hilarious to wind everyone up – but luckily Hoole has. It’s now got some decent drinking holes, a hip barbershop doing a roaring beard trade, and the place we are here for – Sticky Walnut.

It’s charmingly bijou for a place with such a big Twitter presence. I like it a lot; the cookbooks lining the walls, the striped aprons hanging by the door, the relaxed, friendly service. It’s warm and unfussy, exactly the sort of neighbourhood bistro that everybody should have nearby.

Whilst browsing the menu, we drink a cherry bellini and a fantastic negroni that makes me want to go home and hone my cocktail making skills. The lunch deal is obscenely cheap – 1 course is £12, rising to £19 for 3 courses – with a quality far beyond it’s price point.

We start with fat Gordal olives and rosemary and thyme focaccia. My sister moans that it’s too salty; she is wrong. My boyfriend and I fight over her last piece.

My first course is a chicken liver pate that a previous guest claimed (via the always informative Trip Advisor) gave him instant food poisoning. Luckily I escaped this medical miracle and thought my generous slab of pate, served with red onion marmalade and more of that focaccia, was a brilliant rendition of a bistro classic. Butternut squash soup with chestnuts, miso butter and a milk roll had beautiful depth of flavour and umami tang, whilst the mackerel fillet with burnt apple, labneh, za’atar and cucumber was probably delightful, but unfortunately my dad fails to share. Typical.

Hours of my life have been spent drooling over photos of Sticky’s signature braised featherblade, so I was never going to order anything else. I’m not sure what deal Sticky have struck with the devil to produce a dish this fucking delicious but it was definitely worth it. The meat is braised into a tender, rich, sticky heap of bovine goodness that is every bit what I imagined and more. An onion purée and curly kale accompany it, as do moreish truffle and Parmesan chips. We order more bowls for the table and all swiftly disappear. A pork chop with Romesco sauce is simple and effective, although one of three is cooked slightly rarer than we’d usually take it, and pan fried sea bream is stunning; perfectly crisp skin, Jerusalem artichoke purée and a salted lemon tapenade that has me frantically searching the internet for a dupe recipe.

It’s my birthday when we visit – organised by my boyfriend as a surprise – and with every birthday must come cake. My boyfriend has a habit of writing things on plates and so appears a chocolate mousse cake, topped with strawberries and honeycomb, to wish me happy birthday. It’s probably the nicest birthday cake anyone’s ever got me, but it’s testament to Sticky’s menu that I am still insistent on trying the almond and fig frangipane tart that I picked out days in advance. Fuck it, it’s my birthday and I can have two desserts if I want to.

I don’t need to shout about how Sticky seem to just get get it – they’ve got four restaurants and Gary Usher to do that – but they really, really do. Please Gary, can we have an Elite Bistro in Birmingham?!

You can find Sticky Walnut at 11 Charles Street, Chester, CH2 3AZ.

Sticky Walnut Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Tom’s Kitchen, Mailbox

The instructions from Dad were clear; somewhere warm, not too noisy, ideally with table clothes. Nothing mentioned about the food funnily enough, the importance of which clearly diminishes with age. I send a shortlist over to him – all places I have wanted to dine at – including Tom’s Kitchen, where I neglect to mention the lack of table clothes. I’ve been looking forward to eating here since it launched in January. Dad, I’m sorry, you’re going to have to live without linen for the evening.

The restaurant is in a curious location on the first floor of the Mailbox, tucked away by the escalators, well away from the mediocre chains that dominate the waterside bars and restaurants out back. Like me, the interior is classy and well groomed, all dark wood and oversized mustard leather sofas. It could be improved with white table clothes. Ha! Not really. I’m shitting you.

The menu is mostly bistro classics given the Tom Aikens treatment. And fermented carrots. I have to mention these because my Dad thinks the notion of them is hilarious in only the way a man in his mid-sixties from Macclesfield can. He insists that we have them for the table. The fine slithers have a little bite and the hint of spice. The fermentation process has imparted an almost curry-like flavour. They are the future. I know, I’ve tasted them.

I’m not adult enough to be able to resist burrata, but I’m not convinced that the orange dressing and linaseed cracker are the best accompanent for the cream rich cheese. I quickly enforce a hostile takeover of my boyfriend’s rabbit rillettes on account of him looking far too happy. His loss is my gain, as I scoop the mild meat and crunchy piccalilli on to the thinnest of toast. It makes me want to eat rabbit more often.

My main of duck is delicious; the meat is cooked to medium, the skin crisp. The mushroom risotto is all parts delicious, accurately timed and deep with umami. A broth sits around the edge of the bowl that packs a mighty hit of mushroom flavour. At £24 it’s not cheap but it’s well worth every penny of Daddy’s money.

A burger is one of the cheaper mains on the menu at £17, but for that money it needs to be a bloody good burger – especially given it would buy two at OPM and leave change. It is very good – a fat puck of properly aged cow that blushes pink in the centre. I have a little issue with the brioche bun, the bottom half of which quickly breaks down to a nothing with the wet elements. The chips are delicious. I try a bit of Dad’s trout and get why he is so enthused. The skin is crisp, the flesh moist. The parsley and lettuce sauce is vivid in colour and flavour. It is simple and so tasty. The trout, that is, not my Father. That would be weird.

Only one dessert is ordered which divides opinion. I like it, which is all that matters. It is listed as a rum baba, a description that sends the other half into a fit of anger when it arrives. It’s not a baba blah blah blah he says. It’s just noise. The cylindrical sponge has the faint kick of booze and splodges of chantilly cream. Strawberries are present in freeze dried, ice cream, and fresh form. I don’t care how authentic it is, because it’s very, very nice.

I don’t see the bill, but fifty quid a head with wine is probably about right. I think that’s fair for what was a really excellent meal. Everything we ate was executed with skill and precision; as far as bistro style food goes for me it ticks all the boxes. Apart from table clothes, that is. But that’s another story all together.

Find Tom’s Kitchen in The Mailbox, Birmingham, B1 1RS.

Tom’s Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato