I’m a dedicated restaurant nerd and I take my nerdish duties seriously. As such, I’m usually inclined to scrawl some notes when eating out to ensure that the thoughts I subsequently stick up on here are, if nothing else, at least factually correct.
For this celebratory overnighter, however, I consider myself to be off duty, so I leave the Moleskine in the man-bag and go commando.
Which is a long way around saying that this review of the Angel at Hetton will therefore be lacking in forensic analysis and will likely be short on any sagacious insight. Business as usual there then, I know.
What I can confirm is that The Angel at Hetton is a strikingly different beast to the one I last visited just before the Wignall clan got its hands on the place.
The redevelopment has been extensive. Walls have come down, bespoke furniture has been installed and some very modern toilets have replaced what used to be some particularly rustic facilities. Let’s be honest: while the Angel is, on paper, still a pub, it’s unlikely that folk will be dropping in here for a pint of mild, a packet of Nobbys and a quick dabble on the bandit any time soon.
This is The Angel at Hetton 2.0, and I’m here for tea.
The plaudits since Wignall arrived in 2018 came thick and fast, including the landing of a swiftly gained Michelin star. And although a much-anticipated second didn’t drop in the latest announcements I reckon that, going on this visit, it must’ve been a close call. The Angel is also in the Top 5 of that usually dependable “Top Gastropubs” list – a list that, with a little more time and dollar, I’d happily eat my way through.
(My reviews of some of the other establishments on the list can handily be found here: The Freemasons at Wiswell; The Star Inn; The Moorcock Inn; The Black Bull at Sedbergh; The Inn at Whitewell; The Shibden Mill Inn. You’re welcome.)
My patience in tasting menus having waned some time ago, we swerve the multi-course marathon option of the Gastronomic Getaway in favour of an old-school a la carte job, which the Angel’s website tells me comes in at 76 quid for three courses but is included in our room price. (The same package is now showing as £430 but our stay was a little cheaper, presumably because we visited in those heady days where you could buy a loaf of bread without having to cough up a kidney for it.)
After a selection of dainty down-in-one snacks and some v good bread and butter comes a gentle starter of arctic char. It’s a delicate bit of fish cooking, the lightly-flavoured flesh given some savoury oomph from the vivid butter sauce it sits in. As with the rest of the meal, and I guess in keeping with the ethos of the whole operation, the ensemble on the plate is clean and precise, with nothing there that doesn’t need to be.
The words “perfectly cooked” are bandied about a little too liberally at times. Usually by me, granted. But in the case of this tip-top plate of pigeon it’s the swear-on-my-cat’s-life truth. There was breast: charred of skin and pink of flesh. There was leg: pointy, buff and crisp. And there was a burnished wodge of deeply savoury liver. The whole lot laser-sharp and – soz – perfectly cooked.
Even if I had have taken notes I’m not sure where I’d have started with dessert. We’re fully informed of what’s what when the food is delivered, of course, but committing those details to wine-sodden memory is impossible without asking them to be repeated slowly. And that might be a bit weird.
A post-visit nosey at the restaurant’s Instagram feed tells me this complex, laser-sharp creation is a caramelised tart with, amongst other bits and bobs, salted chocolate ganache, bergamot curd and nashi pear that had been put to use in any number of intricate and unknown ways. The work of an absolute boffin, this, and a boffin with cracking taste.
With the snacks, an inbetweener course of a first-rate mini chunk of chicken, and some cheese we bung on at the end, we enjoy a merry old evening and are amongst the last guests to hit the hay.
Times may change, but some things in life do remain reassuringly the same. We’ve stayed in the Garden Room previously and requested it again for this overnighter. Though it may not have the same mod-cons that guests in the newer accommodation can enjoy, it does have a patio on which you can sit out and enjoy a dram from the hip-flask you may or may not have bought with you for a night-cap under the pristine Yorkshire stars.
The breakfast buffet with its DIY toaster has long gone. In its place comes a well-paced series of good things (and they really are Good Things) to get the day off to a sturdy start. Bleary of eye, we get amongst yoghurt with freshly baked pastries, followed by a slither of superb salmon before the first-rate porky bits we were all really hanging on for.
Dishing up the morning grub like this could feel a little excessive but the portions are happily manageable and the process leisurely. As with last night, service is a combination of well-drilled precision and natural chumminess. At one point, I now recall, conversation with a friendly waiter somehow turned to the thorny old issue of where to get Bradford’s best curry, a subject I’m always happy to wade in on.
(It’s the Karachi, by the way. Maybe.)
The kind of cooking at The Angel at Hetton – precise, modern, vivid – is in sharp contrast to the landscape you often get in this part of the Yorkshire Dales: rugged, damp, grey. I like the polarity, although a minority have been less enthusiastic about the Angel’s transformation from local pub banging out traditional home comforts to nationally renowned bastion of the modern.
The transformation would appear to be complete, although I’m sure I read somewhere about future plans for further expansion. News which is catnip to a nerd like me.
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