I was aware, even before setting a foot anywhere near the Angel at Hetton, weeks into its new life under renowned chef Michael Wignall, that whichever way I turned on this one I would be in trouble with somebody. The Angel is a Yorkshire institution, and back in the day was renowned. Latterly, it lost its way. But there’s no need to rake over those old coals; we are where we are.
When the inn changed hands, there was rumour and a decent amount of gossip about what was happening up there in the Dales. What I found was the inn pretty much the same as always, and on a filthy autumn night it was shining brightly against the black skies. The fire in the bar was roaring and though only 6.45pm the place was buzzing. Staff stood at the ready, neatly aproned and overly eager to please.
It took a glass of a perfectly chilled Chilean Sauvignon, a pint and a spot by the fire for us to take stock of the changes. With just nine days between closing and reopening, a significant sparkling up had taken place with pale grey paint right the way through; a serious declutter and on the walls, plans of The Angel at Hetton, part two, coming next Spring.
So no shock in the decor, but it was to the menu I rushed. I had heard all kinds of tittle-tattle about fancy food, posh plates but not a chip in sight. On this evening I ate what I declare to be my chip of the year – but more of that later. The menu may have been a little here and there over the early weeks but is now settling down well. There are five starters and mains keeping things tight, but with more than enough choices including vegetarian in there. And, if you want to keep things relaxed and eat in the bar, there is a seriously tempting selection including, joy of joys, a fish finger sandwich, a burger, steaks, soups et al.
We launched into the starters with a chicken terrine with a shard of crispy chicken, whisper-thin slices of plum, tiny piles of mousse and pickled mushrooms were skillfully placed on the plate, all parts carefully balanced with nothing fighting for recognition, though the tiny mushrooms did lack pickling flavour. Salt baked celeriac, fresh cheese, Hen of the Woods mushroom, black garlic, winter truffle came with the same precision and was faultless.
What is not to love at the promise of Aged rump of Yorkshire Beef, oyster mushroom fondant and those chips for him, and me, Cornish plaice, tempura, hash potato, tomato, and shellfish sauce. Silence descended and with each mouthful we looked at each other and just a slight nod passed between us, words were not needed as this food was so good it spoke its own. Without wanting to go on by singling out the chips when there was so much else to rave about, but getting this level of crispness, pop of flavour and softness out of the humble potato is nothing short of genius.
Again, there are five desserts or cheese. A bread and butter pudding terrine with rum ice cream looked less attractive on the plate than it sounded, but no complaints on flavour. The one dish of the day that did not quite cut it was the warm apple doughnuts which were a little cold, and parkin, not sticky and treacly as we know it here in Yorkshire.
For me, the Angel now oozes all the glory it once did, the atmosphere was just lovely, the food fabulous, service spot on. Thankfully though, it has also fast-forwarded into the 21st century both in approach and attitude. That, I am afraid, is upsetting some but we all should be happy and thanking Michael Wignall and his wife Johanna, with partners James and Jo Wellock, in pushing this change, for the innovation and their daring to do it. This is the best thing that could have happened to this treasure of a place.
Breathing life into its dying embers and watching it roar back to life is the most exciting restaurant opening this year and is only the beginning.
The Angel closes in January and reopens in the spring when it will be spectacularly changed, and I cannot wait. See you for part two next year.
The Angel Inn, Hetton, Near Skipton BD23 6LT. Tel: 01756 730263.
Dinner for two with three courses and wine £132.00
Open: Mon – Sat: A la Carte lunch, 12.00 – 2.30pm, Light lunch until 3pm. A la carte dinner – 6.30 – 9pm Sun: Roast and light lunch, 12.00 – 3pm, A la Carte dinner 6.30 – 8pm.