[Llandewi Skirrid, Monmouthshire] Walnut Tree

Much as I hate the phrase “fine dining”, the Walnut Tree is it. Although it manages it in a straightforward way with none of the unnecessary bells and whistles that some Michelin starred restaurants get by on. We’ve known Shaun Hill’s food since his time at the Merchant House in Ludlow, which marks both him and us as being of a certain generation. This was a return visit to the Walnut Tree and it was good to see it’s still the essence of Modern British food – take good seasonal ingredients and don’t do too much to them.

There’s a snack to to start which jumps the English Channel in the form of a tangy Roquefort biscuit topped with tapenade. And there’s excellent bread – we were offered more once we’d scoffed the first lot.

So, there’s a soufflé to start for one of us. Light as a feather, using Lancashire Bomb cheese (the finest Lancashire you’ll come across, IMO) and a grating of Welsh black truffle. It’s delicious. The other starter was summer itself. A filet of red mullet, perfectly cooked with the all important crispy skin, topped with crab. It sits on chopped Isle of Wight tomatoes. Just lovely.

Rack of lamb, nicely pink is accompanied by a mix of tiny haricot beans and shredded cabbage. And a surprise sweetbread tucked in amongst it. It manages to combine elegance with being a “proper plate of food”. The other main featured lemon sole and shrimps. There’s the flavour of dill and a seasonal hit from asaparagus and samphire. The first time we ate Shaun’s food, all those years back, we were served Jannsen’s Temptation and it was good to see it’s still prepared. It really is one of the tastiest potato dishes.

For desserts, there was a peach trifle and a chocolate torte. The former had layers of peach and sponge, topped with a light, frothy sabayon. The torte was a much more butch affair. Very rich chocolate ganache, accompanied by malt ice cream and a slice of poached pear (more, please). Both work well.

Coffee comes with petit fours – a coconut truffle (think a posh Bounty bar) and a cube of fudge. Service was excellent with things happening so seamlessly that you hardly noticed it was happening. A thoroughly excellent evening.