A PUNTER’S REVIEW OF the Michelin-starred angel at hetton, in the yorkshire dales, BY DAVE MACKAY.
If you’ve got kids you’ll know the feeling when you get home from work and your young child comes running up and greets you like you are their favourite person in the whole world – and their world just got better because you were in it.
Well that’s how it felt when we returned to The Angel at Hetton to celebrate one of our many anniversaries. Admittedly, the staff are not toddlers and there were no hugs but you get the picture.
The Angel is owned by chef patron Michael Wignall and his wife Johanna, who have a vision to keep everything that the venue – which has origins that date back to the 15th-Century – was famous for; fantastic food, a warm welcome and a connection with the dramatic Yorkshire landscape.
We had a couple of “looseners” in the bar next to the warm fire before heading to our base for two nights: Fell View, one of four views in Sycamore Bank, a converted cottage about 10 feet from the restaurant.
The room is aptly named as there are great view of the Fell opposite. It was large and well-appointed with plenty of storage, toiletries and a TV so small you felt compelled to engage in conversation rather than watching Pointless.
We had a la carte on the first night and the tasting menu on the second. I won’t even attempt to describe every course as you’ll get scroll fatigue and give up, so here are the highlights.
As ever, there was plenty of choice and enough to satisfy Mrs Punter, a vegetarian. The a la carte comes with three amuse bouche and my preference was the little chicken parfait cracker. Most of the a la carte options are also included in the tasting menu, and the a la carte also has a little mid-way snack which was just sublime.
The cheese board on the first night was the best I have experienced and took me on a journey from mild to majestic and was accompanied by a very helpful tasting card with descriptions of the cheese and the producers.
I always view tasting menus like a bag of Revels: you’re never sure what you are going to get and it is rare to enjoy every single course.
We got very close at The Angel though. Out of all the courses there was only one I wasn’t keen on: the beef opener which seemed to lack any wow factor. The menu said it came with egg yolk and I couldn’t discern any, if there had have been more it would have improved the dish.
Mrs Punter didn’t like the dessert based on brie, but I was more than happy to finish it for her as it was right up my alley. In terms of what we did like, everything else! We opted for the optional extra course, Wagyu beef for me and every truffle under the sun for Mrs Punter. I was a bit taken aback by the fact that the Wagyu put an extra £35 pounds on the menu but it was an experience I will never forget.
Many chefs create dishes and add a sauce to it, what Michael Wignall seems to do is create a sauce then frame the dish around it. The sauces in this menu were absolutely without fault and I am not embarrassed to say that I practically took the enamel off the plates in my efforts to get every last drop.
We went with the wine paring and it was excellent. Like the cheeseboard, each glass came with a descriptive card and there were plenty – including a few curve balls in there as well. A sparkling pear, a white port and a cherry liqueur. We were even asked to settle a debate between kitchen and front of house as to which dessert wine went best with the last course, which meant that we were forced to try them both – what hardships we have to endure.
We then move on to breakfast (the next day, of course). It has changed since our first visit and you no longer get options, you get a mini tasting menu instead. Toast, yoghurt and pastry first and then the “main” with a soft boiled egg.
On the first morning I went for the standard and was given sausage and bacon and we were both given a little pot of mushroom ketchup with puffed rice. Our server then walked away without the standard, “can I get you any sauces?”.
Being stuck in my ways, I was a little miffed but cut into the sausage and dipped it into the mushroom ketchup with a grumpy, “well I’ll have to have this then”.
I cannot guarantee that children will not read this review so I won’t write what I actually said but it involved quite a bit of swearing, but all thoughts of either tomato ketchup or brown sauce vanished as quickly as breakfast did.
That brings me onto the defining moment of our stay. Mrs Punter, as ever, went for vegetarian and she was given oyster mushrooms, spinach and what appeared to be black pudding, something which Mrs Punter has steadfastly refused to ever even consider trying let alone eating.
Our server assured her it was beetroot. It looked lovely so I asked for it the next day. It was served up as before and the oyster mushroom was delicious with a bit char that gave it a hint of bacon flavour.
Then I tried the beetroot pudding. I am being totally honest that I genuinely thought it was black pudding. It looked and tasted exactly like black pudding and it even had the same consistency. I was absolutely staggered and was still shaking my head in disbelief on the drive home. Two of the best things I have ever eaten involved black pudding and that now makes it three. It is genuinely worth staying at The Angel just to experience that.
Lastly, I have to mention the staff. The customer service is, without doubt, second to none. Staff are warm and welcoming, as many places are, but I am certain that they go above and beyond for us. Whether they do or not, that is how they make you feel.
The “dessert wine challenge” for example is something that they might do for everyone but we felt like we were being asked because we were their most special guests and they thought that we would be better placed than anyone to tell an experienced sommelier and a Michelin-starred chef how to do their jobs.
What gives it away though, and proves that they give the personal touch as a priority is our youngest grandson. Just before we arrived, we found out that he had been taken into hospital and told the management that we might not be able to stay. Thankfully, he was fine, but throughout our stay staff would ask us how he was doing – even staff who hadn’t been there the first day we arrived.
Mrs Punter has put up with me for 33 years and that is quite an achievement – but it doesn’t compare to what Michael and Johanna Wignall have achieved here.