There is no way that Devonshire smoked eel, Oscietra caviar, and aerated white chocolate should go together. Not a chance.
Yet somehow, in the hands of Michelin-starred chef Michael Wignall they do. Like some kind of culinary sorcery (saucery?), the smoke, sweet and salt flavours blend beautifully – none of them dominating the other – to form one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in a very long time. The addition of crunchy nori seaweed and Granny Smith apple to this equation raised more eyebrows around our table, but the harmony was inescapable. It’s a masterpiece.
And this was just round one of an eight-course tasting menu that was about to blow my mind.
But let me set the scene before we go any further. The Angel at Hetton is located in a quaint little village in the Yorkshire Dales in the parish of Hetton-cum-Bordley, a name so twee it sounds like it was made up for an episode of Postman Pat. The pub itself dates back to the 15th century and from the outside looks like something from the opening credits of Emmerdale. But once you step inside, you’ll quickly appreciate this is not a country pub as you know it.
The minimalist decor has English, Scandinavian and Japanese influences – much like the food created here. There are beautiful burr wood tables, a contemporary light sculpture on one wall, live moss and fungi set within in a circular frame on another.
Although this is technically a pub with an actual bar offering proper pints of local ale, I urge you to opt for a cocktail instead. At the top of the menu is a concoction nearly as eye-opening as the eel x chocolate: an A5 wagyu fat-washed Old Fashioned. So, whisky and beef fat? Er, what?
Excess fat from the Hyogo prefecture wagyu steaks used in the kitchen is rendered down and then blended with Japanese whisky. After infusing the whisky for a few hours, it’s relocated to the freezer where the fat and the alcohol are separated. The resulting spirit is richer, more nutty and more buttery, and delivers a smoother mouthfeel for what was the finest Old Fashioned this correspondent has ever imbibed. The margarita’s tequila is given the same treatment but with brown butter. Again, it may sound wrong but, my word, does it taste right.
My final recommendation would be a G&T with Chef Michael’s Cotton Gin, made in partnership with local Otterback Distillery and inspired by his twin loves of the Far East and the wilds of Yorkshire. Flavours include yuzu and kaffir lime balanced with foraged local elderflower.
After your aperitif – and before *that* eel course, we were served a quartet of snacks – micro gastronomy that demonstrates just how many flavours it’s possible to compress into a singular mouthful.
The wine list is surprisingly approachable for a venue that was recently voted the second best restaurant in the country at the National Restaurant Awards. There are lots of exciting options at sensible prices that would put London institutions to shame. But if, like us, you can’t decide, let the sommelier curate a wine pairing. As with the menu, this delivered some surprises along the way, including sparkling pear wine from Normandy and Canasta cream sherry – more on that later.
Back to dinner, where the bread course is next. Wignall’s Japanese influences come to the fore here with Hokkaido milk bread so light it would surely float if not for the thin, crisp crust.
Barbecued langoustine follows, which despite its juicy sweetness is somehow overshadowed by the humble asparagus. In this case, the tip of white asparagus from Loire valley, so rich and earthy, I seriously considered asking for seconds.
A delicate morel and broad bean course is a light interlude, chased by a trio of Sladesdown Farm duck (rillette, breast and leg) adeptly offset by a brace of beetroot (crapaudine beets pastrami and pickled beetroot). At this stage of a tasting menu, I’d usually be starting to flag, but every course is so well balanced and proportioned, there’s no such fatigue here.
Which is just as well, as the next course – the so-called ‘Savoury’ course, bridging the gap between meat and sweet – is my favourite of the night. Baron Bigod is at its core: the brie-like cheese from Suffolk has a nutty, mushroomy rind, with a smooth, silky golden breakdown. Here, it’s teamed with winter truffle, Pedro Ximénez and muscat grape, and astutely paired with a glass of mahogany-coloured Canasta cream sherry. It is, as with the experience as a whole, sublime.
After dinner, there’s only really one way to go… down. Head down on a pillow, to be exact. Fortunately, The Angel at Hetton has plenty of accommodation to help in that department.
As well as rooms in the main house, a collection of cottages and barns across the road have recently been renovated to bring the total number of bedrooms, suites and studios up to 20. There are family-friendly suites as well as dog-friendly rooms, including doggy beds and bowls.
Expect the same fastidious attention to detail from the restaurant in the accommodation. Take the ensuite bathrooms: ours had his and hers showers with a heated floor, and an organic body wash that smells so good you’ll want to eat it. Which knowing chef Michael you probably can. (Please don’t.) There’s a bathtub so large you could do laps in – and sinks you could christen a baby in. Basically the bathroom has gone full God mode.
The suite is so tastefully decorated, with the finest bespoke cabinetry, you’ll consider remodelling your home after one night there.
Before you head home the following day, make room – and time – for breakfast. As you’ll have come to expect by this point, it’s not exactly a bowl of Rice Krispies. Expect multiple courses, a redefined take on the full English, an endless supply of Shokupan toast, and butter so good you’ll want to smear it over everything, not necessarily just the food.
Come for the dinner; stay for the breakfast.
The Yorkshire countryside is so beautiful you shouldn’t need much of an excuse to visit. But thanks to The Angel at Hetton, you’ll definitely be returning.
A one-night stay at The Angel at Hetton costs from £520 for two sharing, including an eight-course tasting menu in the Michelin starred restaurant. Visit angelhetton.co.uk or call 01756 730 263.