Well, about a hundred years ago, when we were but young architects, we were designing spec housing. A meeting with a commercial director of Costain homes brought home the grizzly truth. “You can tell the houses designed by architects” he said, through narrowed eyes “they’re the ones we can’t sell”.
It’s roughly the same with restaurants – stripped down, Scandi furniture, grey walls, polished concrete floors, no pictures, the occasional token Crucial Trading rug, spaced-out tables designed from Neufert’s guide rather than crammed together. Welcome to the newly made-over The Angel at Hetton, the new place for Michael Wignall (lately of Latymer and Gidleigh Park). No, it doesn’t have that bare, clinical architects’ approach, though the quality is evident throughout.
We’d been before a few times under the former management, about five and a bit years ago – “we’re regulars, you know”. A well known, respected Yorkshire institution. They served good food, half bottles of Vieux Telegraphe and rather gaudy “moneybags” – little filo parcels filled with prawns and deep fried. Not their finest hour.
Under the Wignalls, the food is simply excellent. Three courses (no amuse) of carrot, lamb and fig pud, with half a dozen excellent cheeses from The Courtyard Dairy near Settle, taken as a shared course before the puds. Delicious and rare to find such a tempting à la carte menu. So many places only offer ‘Tasting Menus’ – you can enjoy stunning food and accommodation at The Black Swan, but for double the price, and no choice.
Good wines (shame the Télégraphe by the glass was ‘sold out’ – maybe they didn’t want to open a bottle just as they were going into lockdown?). Can’t blame them!
But..there are a couple of small issues that just made perfection out of reach. There were a number of housekeeping issues in the ‘suite’ we stayed in – and none should have happened. Easily remedied – and they did offer – but it did feel a bit tired. We’ve stayed before in this converted outbuilding – done rather well by R&B from Keighley if we remember rightly. Maybe it will be next on the list for a ‘do up’ after the main building? Much more importantly was the absence of Yorkshire. Whilst we know we go out of our way to celebrate the Flat Cap and all it stands for, some little acknowledgement that we’re at the foothills of the Yorkshire Dales wouldn’t have gone amiss. Ok, there were cheeses from The Courtyard Dairy (we have quarterly deliveries, don’t you know) and very tasty bilberries with the beautifully cooked venison but little else – and thankfully no bread rolls served in flat caps (Star Inn the City take note). No reference to local suppliers and no local drinks (Ok Harrogate Spring Water), food miles, pictures. It could have been Core in Nottinghill, but with less added opulence. The food was great but the experience didn’t quite feel special, even allowing for the COVID effect. It did rather feel as if the Wignalls had moved out of London, and created their restaurant as a little oasis despite what was going on around them. Could have been anywhere, though the interior detailing was of a very high standard – beautiful tooled stone around the stoves and the old range, and carefully pelleted hardwood skirtings.
By contrast (and not just in price) The Black Swan at Oldstead has its own take. Not just a restaurant but a way of life. At Hetton they don’t have a garden to grow their own produce, and so there was no evidence of pickling or preserving jars hanging from the beautiful, grey flat ceiling. But if you want to celebrate Yorkshire you could do it by, say, artwork. It doesn’t have to be amateur water colours (as the previous incarnation did) but by good original art. Nor does it have to be David Hockney, Damien Hirst, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore – but Len Tabner or Debbie Loane – good, contemporary artists worthy of matching the interior. Signature contributions to the atmosphere, not just wallpaper.
Still, above all, the food really was excellent. Especially the lamb.
So, as Giles Coren would have it. Food 9.5/10. Atmosphere 6/10 (not helped by the dreaded COVID). Staff 10/10. Value 9/10. Yorkshireness 2/10 (for the cheese and the bilberries with the venison). Well, to be fair, not everyone wants Yorkshireness (why ever not?…Ed).
Restaurant with rooms The Angel at Hetton. Do go, and take your own flat cap if you must…