23 September 2012
Abergavenny is pleasant enough, and a useful base for the Black Mountains, though I hadn't thought of it as an obvious choice for a weekend away. But I do now.
I discovered The Angel Hotel by chance, when looking to see if The Walnut Tree restaurant, just outside the town at Llanddewi Skirrid, offered accommodation (it does: there are two attractive cottages next door). The restaurant's website also gave a link to The Angel, and when I looked at the hotel's website I realised that something rather good was going on in Abergavenny.
The Walnut Tree, made famous by the Italian chef, Franco Taruschio, until he sold it in 2001, was revived in 2008. At its helm is the intelligent, admirably unshowy chef, Shaun Hill ("I'd been trying to retire"), co-owner of the enterprise with the Griffiths family, successful Abergavenny builders, who also took on The Angel 10 years ago.
The Angel is an affordable gourmet break, especially if, like me, you enjoy places that are hubs of local life.
And what a hub. "The Angel and The Walnut Tree have done wonders for Abergavenny," said our taxi driver. If the restaurant's website had shown promise, reality delivered. Entering via the rear car park, usually a dodgy business in these places, we found plenty of stylish architecture and pristine white walls and, inside, bars and sitting rooms that were contemporary but still welcoming.
And what of The Walnut Tree? The superb wine list echoes the food with its down-to-earth descriptions. Service is swift, friendly and without pomp. A marvellous place.
And why does The Angel work so well? The owner's son William was trained at Lausanne and worked for Rosewood Hotels in America and also once had a long stint working for Shaun at his Merchant House restaurant in Ludlow. There you have it: the tale of an Angel and a Walnut Tree, both remarkable.
Who goes? Mainly locals, though you should consider it for a weekend break, together with the Walnut Tree restaurant.
Location - The modest, bustling town of Abergavenny, surrounded by shapely hills, with fine views from the substantial ruins of its once mighty castle.
Style/Character - Staying at The Angel has the added interest of discovering what happens to an old dog of a run down town-centre coaching inn when it falls into the right hands. Why does it work so well? As ever, it’s because of the people behind it: fine builder (father); artistic gallery owner (mother, responsible for the hotel’s look); professional hotelier (son, William, who runs the place). We found a dining room thronged with people devouring the prettiest and most delectable of afternoon teas for which the Angel has become renowned. Later, the handsome panelled bar filled up with regulars, and we deftly switched nationalities as Wales’ win over England in the Six Nations was joyously celebrated.
Service - Over 70 staff are employed at the Angel
Rooms - Choose either one of its calm, stylish upstairs bedrooms with cream walls, snow white beds dressed with pretty cashmere throws, quality brown furniture and smart bathrooms; or one of the nearby cottages, including one in the castle grounds.
Food and drink - Couple your stay with a short taxi ride to the co-owned Walnut Tree: simple, almost homespun, with a short menu of clear, uncomplicated yet sublime dishes based on Shaun Hill’s deep culinary knowledge and wide culinary travels.
Value for money - ‘Michelin star break’: 2 nights, Champagne high tea, dinner at Walnut Tree: £409 for two.
Access for guests with disabilities? Adapted rooms for guests with disabilities.