Unbelievably, it is 10 years since I last reviewed the Angel Inn at Hetton. I have eaten there with friends, attended numerous functions, was even part of a TV documentary filmed in the kitchens and indisputably, I still love the place. But there’s trouble afoot; apparently, the Angel has tarnished its golden wings if we are to believe all we read on social media sites where everyone and their brother has turned critic.
The upset? The Angel has changed direction.
The Angel is as traditional a Dales inn as they come. The current building dates back to the early 18th century and rose to national acclaim in the 1980s when the late Dennis Watkins and his wife Juliet took over and created what to this day is still considered the first ever gastro pub. Banished to history was the chicken in a basket and chips disappeared altogether.
In their place came exciting, vibrant cooking using fresh and often, local foods, with excellent wines and an extensive list by the glass. These are things we are so used to now, but back then this was revolutionary. The Angel became a benchmark for top quality food in pub-restaurants and inspired so many chefs to do likewise. But this is 2017 and times have changed and to survive, they too feel the need to move with them.
First up, chips are back, which is causing something of a stir with some regulars citing a betrayal of the pub’s principles. Seriously? The poor offending fried potato appears only once on the new menu and alongside a rather handsome, locally sourced chargrilled rib-eye steak and classic Caesar salad; this is where chips belong.
The renowned Angel moneybags, which have featured on the menu since day one, remain, as does the Provencal soup. Elsewhere the menu has been pared back of little fancy twizzles and drizzles to more solid, bistro-style food, which ironically is the style Dennis first brought here but now comes with a diversity expected in contemporary styles of cooking.
There are classic devilled kidneys, mustard and herb crusted lamb and salmon en croute sitting alongside Tuscan chargrilled insalata while subtle Asiatic influences of tofu, chilli and coriander pop up here and there.
Dinner began with a tiny cup of wild garlic and leek velouté and from managing director Pascal Watkins (son of Dennis and Juliet) slices of his popular, homemade sourdough loaves. A bang-on-trend and faultless beetroot carpaccio, vegetable tartare with fat, salty caper berries won much praise though for me the vanilla bean in the dressing was a flavour too far.
Fried tofu which seems so much more at home in urban restaurants and delis has settled in very nicely in at the Angel. The starter dish comes as a take on a layered French Napoleon patisserie with the pastry, cream and chocolate replaced with tofu, shitake mushrooms, spinach and crispy wantons. What a genius of a dish if like me you sway from meat when offered a tasty veggie option.
What was declared the most flavoursome-melt-in-the-mouth belly pork in a long time came Ramen style with a slightly dull Miso broth, baby bok choy, St Andrew mushrooms and noodles. Somewhere in the process the chilli had mislaid its heat though, and I hope they find it.
A special involving monkfish cod cheeks with asparagus and a lobster sauce saw classicism re-emerge and reaffirm the cooking from the team at the Angel. However, substantial portions do not mean a massive pile of sauté potatoes on the side to make up the size; less, or better still none, would have served this dish well. A more than acceptable brioche bread and butter pudding with lashings of great custard and a plate of French cheeses (no panic, there are English ones too) rounded everything off.
It would be remiss of me to not mention that faithful to Dennis’s earlier vision the wines are still thoughtful and plentiful.
Rather than berate the team at the Angel for what they have let go, we should be cheering them on that they have stuck their heads above the old parapet in full knowledge that shots would fly. What they have done is not a random act or on a whim; instead, carefully thought through with a massive chunk of the Angel – the excellent service, smart rooms, fabulous wines and fresh food – intact. Let’s give them a chance. Dennis took quite a few across the bow back in the day and look at where it took them then.
The Angel Inn, Back Lane, Hetton, Skipton BD23 6LT, 01756 730263; open: lunch, 12-2.15pm (12-2.30pm Sundays); dinner, 6-8.30pm (6-9.30pm Fridays and Saturdays); three-course dinner with wine for two costs £110. There is a sandwich and salad menu in the bar at lunch and a Sunday roast.