Set back from Burford’s main thoroughfare is this 16th-century coaching inn, home to Hook Norton ales (tick), modern British pub fare (tick, tick) and the friendliest waitress in the entire Cotswolds. LAURA ROWE explains…
When we finally get into Burford, navigate around a one-way system, and fail to find a parking space – then realise we’ve actually driven past four – we’re late to our table. Very late. (We’re talking a good half an hour here.) So, bellies rumbling and throats dry, our eventual sight of the roaring fire and crowded bar of The Angel was an especially welcome one.
There’s always that awkward bit when you’re late to a table at a restaurant, though; a dance of politeness, where you’re sure even the most patient of front-of-house types must be biting their tongues at the inconvenience you’ve caused. But our waitress for the evening, Assumpta, couldn’t have been more lovely.
“Don’t you worry,” she said. “I’ll look after you.”
“She really will,” butted in a knowing drinker, herself waiting to be taken through to her table.
And the act didn’t slip either – Assumpta was genuinely the most polite woman I have ever met. “You are more than welcome”, “my pleasure”, “let me get you some drinks” and “you must have dessert,” she purred, as did owner Terrence. All music to our ears.
Because service is a funny thing, isn’t it? When it’s done well you barely notice it – food is brought and taken at just the right times, drinks are topped up when necessary (and ‘necessary’ does not mean when a molecule has evaporated from the glass), and everything ticks along nicely. When it’s done badly, it can ruin a meal, leaving the taste of a bad experience on the tongue. But when it is done exceptionally – well, that’s when you start turning a one-off meal into a regular occurrence; when you start recommending a place to friends and family; when you don’t mind throwing in an extra tenner or more at the end. And it was precisely this that made our meal at The Angel so much fun. That and good pub fare, of course.
We started off with a Jerusalem artichoke soup (£7.50) and pan-seared scallops (£9.75). The soup was rich, earthy, almost mushroomy in flavour, and made even more deliciously musky thanks to a white truffle foam. The scallops, meanwhile, had been paired with Romanesco cauliflower (you know, the from-another-planet-looking stuff), which had been made into mini florets and a smooth purée. There was no black pudding and no chorizo, which made for a refreshing change, but instead a sweetly spiced curried raisin vinaigrette.
On the mains menu there are plenty of pub favourites – from beef burger (£13.50) and Hooky beer-battered fish and chips (£13.50) to sirloin steak and chips (£21.50) and European-inspired dishes, like the special of moules marinieres or the fillet of hake (£16.95), which I chose. The fish collapsed into pearly flakes onto the mound of nutty quinoa, shar, salty capers and tart pomegranate that lay below. Cauliflower starred again, with yet more purée and florets. An unusual combination, but one that worked very well.
‘Megatron’, my partner in crime for the evening (I’m going to blame her for making us late, because I can), opted for the wild mushroom risotto (£13.95). Now, I’m always 1) a little disappointed when I see this dish rolled out as the obvious veggie option, 2) even more disappointed if it’s not as good as I can make at home. (It rarely is.) Risotto is notoriously tricky to achieve in a restaurant environment, as it can’t be made from scratch during service – it has to be precooked to a certain point (well, you can’t have a chef dedicated to stirring one pan for one customer for 20 minutes, can you?), and then refreshed when the order comes through. I never really understand why chefs add it to their menus, to be honest.
But, and this is a big but, here it was good. Not just acceptable, but rather delicious. The colour of it was the first indication – a rich, earthy chestnut showing that a proper mushroom stock had been brewed – and the flavour was there to back it up too. It was creamy, al dente, savoury and just the right side of salty, thanks to Parmesan. Oh, and did I mention the pretty quail’s egg on top? Well, it was perfectly cooked too. Impressive.
For puds, I misordered, opting for the cranberry and poached clementine trifle (£7.55). It wasn’t quite right for me – the cake was dense chocolate, which overpowered everything else, and the delicate clementines and homemade custard didn’t even get a look in. (Megatron kept wielding her spoon over the kilner jar though, ready to keep diving in whenever I looked away.) Meanwhile, her choice of cassis-poached pear (£7.55) was spot on. Gently spiced, fruity and tender, the pear was partnered with a cassis granite, light chocolate ice cream and sugary vanilla shortbread.
The Angel is a traditional pub with a classic, but often surprising, menu – and staff that will make you want to return again and again. Visiting it was a joy, and that’s what every pub should be like, right?
✱ THE ANGEL AT BURFORD, 14 Whitney Street, Burford, Oxfordshire OX18 4SN; 01993 822714; www.theangelatburford.co.uk