DINING REVIEW – The Angel Hotel
A modern classic
There’s been much activity behind the well-known façade of The Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds. Lesley Rawlinson finds out more about the recent refurbishment
I’ve enjoyed the views through the window from this table before. To my left the towering Abbey Gate, entrance to Bury’s beautiful Abbey Gardens and to my right the spire of St Edmundsbury Cathedral. If my memory serves me correctly, as the evening light fades both will be artistically lit to show the ancient architecture at its best. So little of this very pleasant view has changed yet, in contrast, our surroundings are quite different from when we last visited The Angel.
The building is one of the many historic landmarks in the town and the hotel has always had an enviable reputation for luxury accommodation and fine dining but that doesn’t mean it’s very forward thinking owners can let it stand still and rest on its well-earned laurels; far from it. In fact Gough Hotels, which includes The Salthouse Harbour Hotel in Ipswich and Southwold Pier too, has just invested in a major refurbishment of The Angel’s ground floor transforming the reception, lounge, bar and restaurant with stunning results.
The tradition is still there, but there’s a decidedly contemporary edge. A jewelled palette of sumptuous fabrics punctuated with quirky artworks and alive with vibrant textures and touches. And while there’s so much to take in there are clean lines and space too… all a rather multi-sensory immersion. But is it style over substance? Certainly not!
We’d arrived a little early for our dinner booking to allow time for a drink in the new bar. There’s quite a swanky, urbane feel – quite masculine, but not uncomfortably so. The sophisticated cocktail menu and good choice of cask ales and beers is nothing less than expected and service is swift, courteous and elegant. We were also offered the chance to study the menu while sipping so by the time were seated at the aforementioned window choices had been discussed and decisions made.
I must say from the outset that the entire menu was appealing filled with flavour combinations that made sense on the page (rather than testing ones imagination before daring to order) and brimming with seasonal produce. Our choices of starter may sound very straight forward – a soup and a salad – but they were both far from ordinary. My dining companion ordered Duck egg Caesar salad with the promise of the usual gem lettuce and parmesan. The soft rich egg was also enhanced with fresh, silvery anchovies – the perfect textural contrast to the crunchy croutons.
I was sorely tempted when I saw Moules marinière available (as either a starter or main) but the soup had taken my fancy. Cauliflower soup with onion bahji, curry oil, homemade bread and whipped malt butter. Now, I know the soup was the champion here but I just need to step aside and give the bread its due praise. Full of malty flavours and enhanced by the butter this really was a bread-lovers treat. I enjoyed a generous slice with the delicious soup but noticed a slice was also snaffled to go with the salad! In fact we had to hold back from sharing the third slice from the platter for fear of not managing our mains.
It was good to see a number of seafood choices on the menu and I had decided I’d go for the hake. Pan fried with celeriac, brassicas and crispy pancetta this was the kind of dish I knew I’d enjoy. Another generous plate to say the least, the flavours balanced well and with a flourish of wilted rainbow chard it made for a very pretty dish. But hold on to your hats – the main course ordered across the table was declared “favourite restaurant dish – ever” by its recipient, and having tasted it too I’m not surprised. Dingley Dell pork cutlet with caponata (Sicilian aubergine stew), aubergine and greens was a show- stopper. Thick, tender, succulent pork that had been cooked to the moment of perfection and teamed with sensational seasonal vegetables. Remember we’d been worried about filling up on the bread? Thank goodness we’d held back because both of these dishes were to be savoured to the very last mouthful.
Unnecessary I know, but once we’d finished ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ at the wondrous pork we allowed ourselves to be carried away by the dessert menu. Unusual for me but I knew straight away what I’d be enjoying; Strawberry mojito sorbet, rum granite and mint and I’m glad I did because it was another ‘perfect ten’. Assured that most of the alcohol had been boiled out in the cooking process I was left with an intensely flavoured, dish that simply oozed ‘summer’. Lemon tart with yoghurt ice cream and meringue was heartily enjoyed beside me and with a cafetiere of decaf to round of the meal we’d had a truly memorable experience.