Stepping through the doors into the Angel Hotel’s grand Oak Room restaurant with its marble pillars and interesting art, the subdued air muffled by the thick linens and heavy glassware on the tables, I’ll admit I quailed a little.
I’d brought my children to eat here?
Honestly – this was not the kind of restaurant I’d normally choose as a family dinner location. On a quiet city break for the two of us on a rare child-free weekend, filled with good wine and great food? Oh yes, absolutely.
But accompanied by two teens and a picky 11yr old who pretty much only likes cheesy pasta & chicken? Not so much.
After a busy morning exploring Big Pit (which was fascinating, and we’re wondering why on earth it took us so long to go. It’s not just the mine itself, we spent a long time in the 1930’s Pithead Bathrooms. No really.), we’d headed out for an afternoon exploring – we’d visited Llanthony Priory, and enjoyed a relaxed spectacular drive along Gospel Pass.
Heading back to Abergavenny, we pulled into the edge of a quiet field and did a quick-change out of our grubby shorts and hiking boots into something more respectable for dinner, using the car mirrors (or each other) for hair and a little make up. We SO did not feel prepared for anything more than a country pub dinner!
However, not a flicker of an eyebrow registered our readied-in-the-car state when we arrived at the Angel Hotel in Abergavenny (super easy to find, and loads of parking at the back). Instead we were greeted with a quiet and friendly smile (by a gentlemen whose magnificent moustache had our teens in awe), and guided to our table towards the back of the restaurant.
We were the first ones in, but as we settled and started to talk through the menu a steady stream began filling other tables. There were two menu options – the set Angel menu (three courses for £30), or the Oak Room a la carte option – which we all ended up choosing from.
As expected, the choices for the picky 11yr old were very slim – not a chicken nugget or cheesy pasta bowl in sight (hooray!). It’s not an unusual situation for her – the French take the same attitude, with very few ‘child’ options in their restaurants as they simply expect the kids to eat the same as the adults. I love it, and have always encouraged my kids to be adventurous with their food choices, resulting in three great eaters (quite what what went wrong with No.4 baffles me). The Angel takes the same attitude – there were no kids options, so she had to take the plunge.
Talking through everything carefully with me (why’s it always me? I’m then left to choose my own in the 17 nanoseconds space while everyone else is declaring theirs to the waiter because I spent all of my own choosing time discussing the different choices with smaller people?), she opted for the spicy soup (she doesn’t do spice) and the steak (she eats like a bird. Unless it’s cheesy pasta obvs). The similarly-dubious waiter kindly questioned her choice, gently repeating that the soup was spicy, but she stuck with it.
Thankfully everyone else found dishes to their liking (I opted for the hand-picked Cornish crab with lemon mayo, crab toasts, salad leaves)
We also asked the waiter about a half-sized steak for the (now-a-bit-annoying) 11yr old – this wasn’t possible, but he suggested that she might prefer the Chimmichurri steak from the Foxhunter Bar menu as a smaller alternative. Excellent advice, and we were happy to go with that.
The starters arrived, and the soup was tasted. A face was made – but apparently that’s because it was hot, not because it tasted bad. Spoon followed spoon, and before I knew it, the whole bowl had gone (and she and her brother had received a lesson in soup-eating manners too. Bonus), and much indignation ensued at our surprise over her empty bowl.
Around the table, the other starters had all been ooh-ed over at their prettiness, and then aah-ed over at their deliciousness. My crab was meltingly smooth and tender, served with just enough perfectly-dressed salad leaves to counteract the richness of the shellfish.
The mains were just as spectacular. The meats the carnivorous 16yr old had ordered were such a variation in texture, taste and exciting new experiences (sorry – childhood steak & kidney scarred me, I just won’t cook kidney, so it was a whole new world on his tongue) that he didn’t actually speak for a while.
The 15yr old had ordered what 80’s me would have called the ‘surf & turf’; only this was a very grown up contemporary twist on the classic. Grilled prawns and steak, dressed with a miso, honey and chilli sauce served with coconut rice.
He wouldn’t share even a small bite, but did tell me it was probably the best dinner he’d ever chosen.
The Chimmichurri steak proved a spice to far for the 11yr old’s palate, but some swift parental scraping of the dressing and she was very happy (our fault, we should have asked for it plain. I would have, except for the fact that I was choosing my main course at the time...)
I went veggie (I’ve been eating meat again for years, and yet still love the veggie option when eating out), and opted for the Butternut squash and aubergine Panang curry, with coconut rice and shredded carrot sambal.
Melting on the tongue, warm and complex spices, complementing textures, the soothing cool richness of the coconut rice… I ate very slowly, savouring every single forkful.
We weren’t actually sure we could manage dessert… but the unhurried service meant we weren’t rushed, and after chatting for a while over our drinks we heroically decided to give the menu a look…
I opted for my favourite French dessert – the Cafe Gourmand, which is a coffee served with three different taster sample sizes of dessert. All three were a delight – the jelly not much on its own, but accompanied by the richness of the brownie and the freshness of the strawberries it was a perfect combination. They were, however, rather large for a cafe gourmand – I felt like I’d been served three desserts, not one! The family were happy I was sharing though.
Mr LittleStuff and I each had a glass of wine; the available-by-glass section of menu was limited, but as always, we were happy to be guided by advice from a knowledgeable waiter, and they turned out to be excellent; Mr LittleStuff opted for the Malbec with his steak, which turned out to be as softly rich and fruity as he could have chosen, and my Pinot Grigio was full, rounded and perfectly dry with my curry.
We honestly had a wonderful evening at the Angel Hotel – the service was impeccable; warm and unhurried, helpful and efficient. The food was seriously good, and the experience was one the children will remember (and now wish to repeat – we’ve rather shot ourselves in the foot there!).
Honestly – the Oak Room is not a restaurant I’d go to with young children. If you’re planning on a visit with smaller people, then the Foxhunter Bar on the other side of reception is a more relaxed experience with a more accessible menu for younger palates.
But if your kids are beyond the age of lobbing cutlery on the floor and having a tired meltdown, then I’d urge you not to save the Oak Room for a quiet dinner à deux (though it’s obviously perfect for that).
Be brave, take the kids. From my experience they will rise to the occasion, behave impeccably, and show you that they actually have been listening to your table manners nags for the last ten years. Also, eat deliciously spicy soup. Who knew?
The Oak Room strives for culinary excellence and exquisite service as Chef Wesley Hammond leads The Angel’s talented culinary team to provide guests the most inviting, approachable and valuable dining experience in Monmouthshire. The Angel aims to provide simple, good quality food with an approach that involves choosing the freshest and finest ingredients. Paired with inspired culinary creations and live entertainment on weekends.