While house hunting in West Hampstead last summer, we asked the estate agent for a restaurant recommendation, to which he replied, ‘you don’t come to West Hampstead for fine dining’. Assuming we would be able to find some hidden gems, we took the plunge anyway and moved into the area. West Hampstead has so much going for it, but unfortunately our estate agent was right, culinary genius is scarce. Where to go then, on a weeknight, when time would not allow us to venture too far? Having heard some good things about The Walnut, a sustainable restaurant with an emphasis on seasonal produce, we decided to give it a try.
We had a reservation for 7.20pm (our thrifty leanings made us determined to take advantage of the ‘order before 7.30pm and receive 20% off your bill’ offer), but a lengthy conversation with the T-Mobile support line meant we rushed in at 7.28pm. A smiley waitress kindly rushed through our order meaning we would still get the all important discount! We were then able to catch our breath and take in our surroundings. Side lighting lent a cosy, intimate atmosphere, and the kitchen was on a mezzanine above us, allowing diners a peak into the engine of the restaurant, a nice touch.
To start I ordered the scallops with a toasted hazelnut and coriander dressing (£7.85). The scallops were perfectly cooked but a little tepid, not helped by being served on a cold plate. Gastrodad’s Cornish crab cakes (£5.35) had been made with one dollop of mustard too many. Both dishes were unimaginatively presented, each having a rather large ‘garnish’ of salad leaves, which could have been straight out of a Florette Crispy Salad bag.
Next up was slow roasted pork belly, accompanied by more of the crispy salad! A rather incongruous side. I also ordered potatoes dauphinoise (£4.85). The pork belly was tender but wasn’t quite as ‘melt in the mouth’ as I would have liked. The dauphiniose was tasty but a little heavy and overly cheesy. Maybe this is what happens when a British restaurant makes a French classic. Gastrodad had the ribeye steak (£16.35), accompanied by chips and, you guessed it, more crispy salad! The steak was cooked as requested and aside from the salad, a well executed dish.
After all that salad we were too full for a pudding each, so shared the warm dark chocolate tart (£5.25). This had a lovely oozy centre which wasn’t too sweet. The pastry could have been crispier, but altogether this was probably the highlight of the meal. We also had a cafetiere of Tikki coffee, which was good coffee, but it’s a shame they haven’t invested in an espresso machine.
In an area barren of stand out restaurants, The Walnut is head and shoulders above most of its competitors, it just isn’t the oasis I had hoped for. The produce is local (as local as Kidderpore Avenue in Hampstead) and carefully selected. Service is eager to please, and the sustainable approach bound to win fans. However the dishes seem a little flung together and I’m not sure the kitchen has an eye on the finer details. Altogether the Walnut is a good neighbourhood restaurant, but not a great one.
The Walnut, 280 West End Lane, West Hampstead NW6 1LJ
Overall rating: 6/10
Mummy friendly score: babysitter required
Gastrodad score: 6/10