GREAT meals are like magnificent buildings.
The cooking is as important as the bricklaying – but it is vision, creativity, pushing new boundaries, and extraordinary passion that are the defining qualities.
Walk down North Street in Midhurst and you will almost take the Angel Inn for granted.
This 17th-century landmark hotel and restaurant has been offering hospitality for centuries and today it blends into the street scene with barely a raised eyebrow.
But step inside, and you will find you are at the cutting edge of culinary exploration.
When we visited this week, head chef Iain Lelean had not been in post long. His sous chef Daniel Coombes had been there just a day.
Yet these dynamic young men have an engaging almost memorising vision of how they want to make this the most special place in which to dine – irrespective of whether you seek contemporary simplicity or traditional value for money.
That determination manifests itself not just in their commitment to the sheer hard work that any good kitchen demands.
They are artists focused on presenting meals in ways that are stylish, innovative and wholly relevant to the local area.
They are culinary architects.
Iain has a wealth of experience. He has the celebrity look and the vitality of a TV chef in the making, too.
More than that, they know what they want to achieve. They want to make a difference.
We sampled some of their first dishes.
To start – duck liver and orange pate served with balsamic roasted fig and garlic crostini (£7.25) and smoked salmon and prawn mousse potato castle (£7).
The potato is a novel addition. It gives structure to the presentation and a subtle contrast of texture offsetting the oiliness of the fish.
Some people will love it, others will politely leave a little of the carbohydrate on the side of the plate when it is cleared.
The mains range in price from £9.95 for the Cumberland sausages to £17.75 for the rib eye steak.
But most are reasonably priced at the mid-way point and the quality and quantity is extraordinarily good.My wife had the day boat caught fish and chips (£11.50). Wow.
This was the traditional British dish at whizz bang peak. A wonderful wave of fish rising up from the plate with hand-cut triple-cooked chunky chips running like a boardwalk to the shore across the plate.The mushy peas were fresh, honest and rich in colour.
My mum, who loves a huge plateful of fish and chips freshly caught and cooked and served at a decent price, would have loved it. We will be taking her there!
Meanwhile, the locally-shot pheasant cooked two ways (£15.95) was my choice. I was not disappointed. A streaky wrapped breast with a rosemary and garlic roasted leg served with sautéed new potatoes, parsnip puree and crisps. The pheasant was succulent and rich in flavour. Too often a poor kitchen will serve it dry of texture and heavy on the plate and the stomach. This was as good as it gets.
The dessert menu was simple. It would have benefited from a lighter fruit option. Never mind, the dark chocolate fondant served with vanilla ice cream (£7.50) was a mini masterpiece – and not so mini at that! It was simply terrific.
The home-made cheesecake (£6.50) was thickly layered and offered a real sense of the indulgent.This is the start of the journey for Iain and Daniel. They have amazing culinary plans – from the sourcing of their ice creams to the introduction of venison to the Sunday roast.
What’s important to them is a real sense of integrity toward both the food and their customers. They want to offer great dishes and generous portions, fantastically presented and at unbeatable value.
Ed Dark, assistant manager, hoped people who thought the Angel’s restaurant was for people who were staying there would think again. Anyone can call in for a relaxed meal – and to see the chefs hard at work at the open pass.
The discerning retired of Midhurst and Petworth will find it a treat.
Almost as a postscript, it should be pointed out how fine the Angel’s surroundings are. How good the wine list – the pinot noir served by the glass was excellent. How special the service is.
Ellie brought us our meals. She could not have made us feel more welcome.
But the stars were the young, thoroughly likeable guys in the kitchen. We will be back to see how they and their team continue to evolve the menu and how they increasingly shape a reputation for themselves through their culinary artistry. If you haven’t visited for a while, call in for lunch or dinner. Give your verdict. And wish them well as they bring a culinary radiance to this historic coaching inn.
As Robbie Williams put it: I’m loving angels instead.
The Restaurant Inspector
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