Review, The Walnut Tree, Worlington: 'Honest pub food done properly'
- Credit: Simon Weir/Archant
With the intermittent onset of summer, I was starting to hanker after eating in the warm sunshine of a fine pub garden - but as seems to be the case every time I book somewhere to eat, the heavens opened as I left work, heading towards the restaurant (so if your lawn does start to look brown this summer, you know what to do... take me to dinner).
I was glad I'd booked a table inside at the Walnut Tree in Worlington. When I arrived, I was shown through to the back room where my table awaited. Covid measures seemed straightforward, with sanitiser and a screen on the bar, plus a sign-in sheet or a barcode for the Track and Trace app. It's a nice high-ceilinged main area, with a (simple) maze of corridors connecting other rooms. The restaurant where I was seated had good views of the outside seating area (as if to rub it in) - but also let me spot when my girlfriend arrived.
Once Ali was installed opposite me, we studied the menu and ordered drinks - a small white wine and a bitter-tops. Both were perfectly acceptable, if not memorable - I confess I didn't pay attention to what the beer was, as I knew I was going to ruin it with lemonade as I was driving.
Two things struck me about the menu: first, everything looked good-value, with starters from £4 and mains from £13; second, I'd have happily eaten any of the dishes. While the options were traditional dishes, there seemed to be one or two clever twists - little extras to enhance the plates, like pastrami as well as ham on the ploughman's,
For her starter, Ali went for the panko breaded brie wedges, with country garden chutney (£6). They arrived looking crisp and delicious - generous golden triangles that were firm on the outside and meltingly soft all the way through. I was impressed they'd managed that with such large pieces of brie: every mouthful was just right, set off by the chutney.
I'd opted for the breaded whitebait with chunky tartare sauce (£6) which arrived with about half a lemon in deceptively large bowl. I didn't think there were many fish there, but it was like the magic porridge pot as I plucked out crispy tiddler after crispy tiddler, seemingly getting no closer to the bottom of the pot. The fish were nicely cooked, but were slightly overshadowed by the tartare which was just delicious: I could have polished off a pot as big the fish bucket...
I'd had a tough time picking a main course. The rain told me it wasn't ploughman's weather and a fish starter ruled out the seabass, but maybe the steak and Guinness pie or the lamb chops with mash would be too wintery? I almost went for the chicken with creamy peppercorn sauce, but then I realised the burger was topped with Cajun pulled pork, served with apple slaw, leaves, chips and onion rings (£13). Who could resist pulled pork and onion rings?
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I wasn't disappointed - though I was little underwhelmed by the leaves, which weren't exactly exciting, and the chips which weren't the kind of chunky hand-cut triple-cooked gastro-pub things I'd been imagining. They were just perfectly cooked, well seasoned and tasty enough to win me over. The onion rings were the best I've had for an extremely long time: crisp, tasty, not even slightly greasy. The slaw was good and the burger was simply fantastic. It was beefy, and well cooked, with the pulled pork adding to it without overpowering it.
But if my main course impressed, Ali's vegetarian one stole the show. She'd gone for the roast butternut squash with Mediterranean vegetables, crumbled goats' cheese and pesto, served with saute potatoes and mixed leaves (£13). For one thing, it was a huge portion (don't worry... I helped) but it wowed on the flavour front. The squash was perfectly cooked, soft and sweet but well-seasoned enough to be savoury, especially with the generous amount of cheese and the well-seasoned vegetables scattered across the top. Even the little saute potatoes were excellent.
Could the quality continue into the dessert? The value certainly could - with all the puddings £6 each. Ali went for the Biscoff cheesecake - assuming it would be bought in. But no, this was homemade and much better for it. It was great to see that it came with real fresh cream - rather than something squirted out of an aerosol - but it was a pity it had been overwhipped a little.
Meanwhile, I was feeding my inner child with the chocolate brownie sundae, which arrived in another of those TARDIS-like buckets. There was so much of it: loads of rich, fudgy brownie, a fair whack of ice cream and a generous amount of the (slightly overwhipped) real cream. Utterly delicious.
We both very much liked the meal at the Walnut Tree. It wasn't fine-dining gastropub food, just good, honest pub food done properly, with one or two nice touches to lift it above the ordinary. It was all genuinely tasty and the portions were good. The staff were lovely, the atmosphere and location pleasant - and at £58.50 for the two of us, it was good value as well. It's a great place for a meal.
We pay for all our meals and restaurants do not know they are being reviewed.