The Angel Hotel, Lavenham

The Angel Hotel, opposite side of the road from The Great House in Market Square, Lavenham, was once owned by Marco-Pierre White, so I hear.  Unlike Régis Crépy at the GH, who celebrated 30 years at that august establishment, White didn’t get on with the locals and they didn’t get on with him, so that association was consigned to history in 2014 (see here) and the running handed over to Cozy Pubs, who run a number of country pubs in Essex and Suffolk – a good decision on their part, since Lavenham is the most drop dead gorgeous Suffolk town you could wish to find.

With a touch of irony, White’s makeover in “Suffolk pink” (aka blancmange) was deemed inappropriate for a listed building, so it was repainted in…. battleship grey, which I for one consider out of keeping and a good deal too trendy for the dignity of the building, but maybe I am in a minority there.  It just doesn’t look right next to ancient beams, but does seem to have become a modern trend (see also the King Harold’s Head in Nazeing, where I went yesterday – not a good look, certainly not traditional.)

But what of other changes?  White is quoted as saying this:

“When I take over an establishment I see myself as the caretaker. I accept not everyone will agree with my decisions. But I object to swearing, tattoos and dogs sitting on chairs. I am not trying to be difficult – I am thinking of the 98% not the 2%.  I don’t like Fosters and Strongbow – I like traditional ales and ciders. If they don’t like that then I am sorry. I am putting my money where my mouth is. Had I not taken the Angel over, the reality is that it would have closed.”

I can’t comment on the argument but I can say that during our stay the bar area proved cosy, with plenty of comfy leather armchairs and not a dog on a seat to be seen.  I don’t remember whether Fosters or Strongbow were on sale, but I did sip a half of Woodford’s Wherry while reading one of the newspapers provided by Cozy Pubs and enjoying a view of a fine inglenook fireplace.  The locals, and there were a fair few of them, looked well contented, even if the bar area included a few bizarre additions like a mural wall imitating a bookcase.

On this occasion we did not dine but did take advantage of the hotel’s guest facilities and breakfast.  As mentioned, The Angel is a listed building, witnessed by the lack of double glazing (the square is pretty quiet, so no problem) and especially the wonky floors.  Our room was set on a steep gradient, which made opening the door much harder than you would normally expect.  All doors were of the stable variety, including the bathroom – which also had a trick two-stage opening.  At least it was a good, solid old-fashioned key that allowed us access to the room, not one of the horrible plastic cards beloved of so many modern hotels.

Once you acclimatise to the period building, there is much to love about the rooms at the Angel; it is quietly charming and does the important things right.  The bed was comfortable, the sheets and towels crisp and clean.   No dust was to be seen anywhere.  All facilities and fittings, shower included, were of admirable quality and performed without fuss.  A TV was wall-mounted by the window, though we did not use it; a hair dryer was supplied, as were a range of toiletries.  If you want to be picky dressing gowns would have been a nice touch, but the standard was pretty decent for a room priced at £100 including breakfast – the VFM test therefore passed and a good night’s sleep had by both.

Talking of breakfast, this is where the Millward gourmet zeal comes to the fore.  Before now I’ve given good ratings to B&Bs but found their breakfasts let them down.  In this case the results were somewhere in the middle of the road.  A reasonable fruit salad and Longley Farm yogurts were a good start (I will blog separately about the latter, which remind me strongly of my youth), as were a range of breads and spreads – including the right jam (ie. Wilkins and son, from Tiptree!)  Filter coffee was a touch so-so and would have been improved by the addition of a proper professional bean-to-cup coffee maker, as recently enjoyed at a B&B in Wilmslow – but at least it was fresh-made and had not been stewing for an hour; all my worst coffee nightmares are of stale filter coffee.

For cooked breakfasts, a range of offerings gave some choice, from which we selected scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and a full English.  My companion rated the scrambles 8/10, though to my eyes they did not look to be in the same league as my homemade version.  She did enjoy, so no problem.

The English breakfast was topped with fried bread: had I known that was coming, I would probably have asked for toast instead.  Maybe it’s just me but I never acquired a taste for fried slice, and given the modern trend for less fried food maybe they should be offering diners a choice?

Of the remainder, the bacon and mushrooms were good; the lone sausage was clearly not a cheapo variety packed with rusk, though it was overcooked to the point where its skin had formed a leathery crust; the tomato was not really slow roasted enough, the beans were what you expect of baked beans and the egg yolk was broken and decidedly congealed by the time it reached the table.  Good in parts sums up the plate pretty well, though at least I could make my own toast to compensate for the less good parts.

In summary, The Angel is well on the way to being excellent, and can easily be improved further, though a touch of the high standards employed by Mr White would be no bad thing in the breakfast department.  As a hotel it provides what you would expect to find in an English pub with rooms, and does it well.

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