The Angel, Bury St Edmunds
Review date: July 2014
The Angel Hotel in the centre of Bury St Edmunds is perfectly positioned for exploring in and around the historic market town. Lesley Rawlinson finds out more
Suffolk, for me, is very much a county of two halves. The windswept coast and gorse-laden heaths that beckon me eastwards and then the pretty chocolate box villages and towns like Chelsworth, Kersey and Lavenham – to name but a few – enticing me to go west. Habit and convenience tend to take me east so the chance to take a break to explore and enjoy somewhere different is always a bonus. This time the ultimate westerly destination was Bury St Edmunds as I looked forward to an overnight stay with my husband, Adrian, in the historic and landmark Angel Hotel.
The ivy clad Georgian façade of the Angel is, itself, beautiful. Adorned with colourful hanging baskets during spring and summer, but just as bold and welcoming in the autumn and winter too, there’s a feeling of both grandeur and warmth that exude in parallel. I’ve often ‘popped in’ while enjoying some retail therapy in Bury but hadn’t experienced The Angel as an overnight guest and wasn’t prepared for the welcome to start in…the car park!
As a town centre venue the hotel doesn’t enjoy the vast grounds that some of its out-of-town contemporaries may have but that’s immaterial when the parking service is a slick as this. Pulling up in the small car park behind the hotel we were immediately met by a smiling member of staff who offered to park the car once he’d taken us, along with our baggage, to reception to check in before showing us to our room. And what a room. I had expected some luxurious touches – after all Gough Hotels has a reputation for the curious and the exotic – and this signature suite was a perfect showcase bringing together rich fabrics, decadent furnishings and a bathroom that certainly had the wow factor with double ended copper bath and rainforest shower.
We’d arrived late on a summer afternoon with the hope that there’d be a little time left in the day for a mooch around the shops and a stroll through the Abbey Gardens, just a stone’s throw from the hotel. We booked a late table in the restaurant and headed out to explore. While there’s plenty to actually ‘do’ in and around the town, Bury St Edmunds is one of those places where I’m just happy to ‘be’. With no real plan we wandered…and wandered…and wandered.
Eventually it was time for refreshment and having circled back towards the hotel we decided to venture down into the cool underground chambers of the Angel’s Wingspan bar. In the 12th Century vault beneath the hotel there’s a perfect example of what Gough Hotels does so well. ‘Curious’ is their watchword and this bar – fashioned out of the secret tunnels that run under much of the town - is a mixture of ancient architecture, modern furniture and eclectic curiosities. The bar itself has been created from half an aircraft engine, the tables designed from aeroplane doors and the sofas individually covered in German flour sacks – unusual to say the least. I think my favourite artefact is the chandelier made of milk bottles! All in all a very sophisticated environment indeed. There’s a good selection of quality wines and beers on the menu but we felt a summer evening cocktail from the specially selected list was in order; after all the Head Barman recently won an award for one of his new cocktails at a London event so we knew we were in for a treat. Mention must be made of the inventive use of frozen cherry tomatoes in place of ice-cubes in the Bloody Mary – a small and refreshing stroke of genius.
With plenty of lounging time still in hand before our table reservation I decided that the temptation to don a fluffy robe and get the bath filled ready for a pre-dinner soak was too much to resist. I think I could have happily moved in to that bathroom permanently - with its well thought out touches, like access to the shower from both sides and quirky hand shaped towel hanging hooks in easy reach, along with the Temple Spa products that added another little layer of luxury to the experience.
Time to dine and we were shown to our table by a window at the front of the restaurant in clear view of the St Edmundsbury Catherdral tower, tinted pink by the setting sun. The room is absolutely filled with art and no matter where you’re seated there’s plenty to observe but of course by this stage we were more interested in the artistry going on behind the kitchen doors. Having eaten at both of the group’s other Suffolk venues – The Salthouse Harbour Hotel in Ipswich and Southwold Pier – we were confident of what was to come.
I surprised my husband with my choice of starter and although he thoroughly enjoyed his dish of crab linguini with chilli and garlic I think he secretly had ‘food envy’ for my plate of devilled lambs kidneys on tasted focaccia. Never the fashionable choice, I know many who turn up their noses at any kind of offal but these tender morsels were cooked to perfection coated in a rich, creamy sauce with a hint of smokey paprika. Across the table a main course of lamb served on a cassoulet of cannellini beans with chorizo and baby spinach had the desired effect with a summery, Mediterranean flavour and my choice of fried sea bass with clams, chorizo and chick peas served on a bed of spiced cous cous had an equally seasonal charm. Regular readers will know that I can never pass by a crème brúlée without succumbing to its charms and with a choice of flavoured ice creams Adrian was equally tempted to indulge in dessert.
Coffees enjoyed it was time to retire for the night. The staff on turn-down service had thoughtfully turned on the air conditioning in our room and on this warm evening we were very glad of their attention. Next morning, suitably refreshed by a sound night’s sleep and the invigorating rainforest shower we enjoyed a hearty Suffolk grill breakfast and promised ourselves a return visit, perhaps taking in some of the autumn programme at the Theatre Royal or maybe the legendary Bury Christmas market.
The Angel Hotel,
3 Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds,
Suffolk, IP33 1LT