Each year I make a literary pilgrimage to Hay on Wye where a good friend of mine has a home. She and her partner become extremely popular for the two weeks of the festival but manage to remain remarkably calm and hospitable throughout. I go for the end of the second week and love every minute of my time there. The variety of talks, the atmosphere throughout the festival grounds, the wide range of folk attending and wine fuelled late night discussions all make for a special and enjoyable few days.
One newly fixed and now traditional part of my trip is lunch at The Walnut Tree. The arrangement is simple Diana organises all the tickets plus the bed and board then meets me from the train and I buy lunch!
The Walnut Tree is close to Abergavenny, an unassuming Welsh pub that has an illustrious history as a restaurant. No review fails to mention Franco and Ann Taruscio who started the tradition of good food here and whose footsteps, those who follow have not always found easy to fill. One problem with nostalgia is that it wears rose coloured glasses, but there is no worry that the present chef/patron, the very talented and generally quite lovely Shaun Hill, has not put his own quality mark on this place.
The menu is just long enough to offer temptation but not so long as to make choice impossible. The set lunch is quite extraordinarily good value and on both this and the a la carte menu all the hallmarks of Hill’s cooking can be found: lobster with chickpeas and coriander, Jansson’s temptation with sole, Veal sweetbreads with cromesqui, buttermilk pudding. Dishes he’s been cooking and refining during a lifetime’s commitment to good food, that should be both cooked and served simply.
This year the weather was atrocious so instead of enjoying a glass of Champagne on the terrace we huddled by the fire in the pub drying out, but in general a little of the Welsh air whets the appetite quite admirably.
It’s all very good indeed. The staff are a delight, the service committed but not overbearing and the food, well the food is just perfect. From the amuse through my turbot with lobster boudin, my Lancashire Bomb cheese with an Eccles cake and a glass of Banyuls to some home made fudge with my coffee there was not a wrong note.
You may be able to tell I really rather enjoyed it. Roll on next year!