Inside Suffolk’s most exclusive underground supper club
- Credit: The Angel
Anything foodie, naturally, piques my interest. Add to that a veil of cloak-and-dagger secrecy, an air of mystery, and I’m hooked.
As was the case earlier in the summer, when I saw a social media post for a small eats and cocktails supper club in the vaults of The Angel Hotel, Bury St Edmunds. No sooner had I spotted it than tickets had sold out. I was determined to find out more and, phew, managed to nab a table for two for the second event (July 8).
Only 32 tickets per event are available. And they won’t be monthly. Rather the kitchen and front of house team, led respectively by executive chef Scott Taylor and hotel manager Tom Slegg, will post them on social media at a whim. Basically - keep your eyes peeled. Or, sign up to their mailing list.
I’d not been to The Angel since its refurbishment in 2019. And what a transformation it is. Very Soho House. All low-slung velveteen sofas, plush soft furnishings and chandeliers.
I like that the old, very formal, reception area has gone. In London and other larger cities you wouldn’t think twice about nipping into a hotel lounge or bar for drinks and nibbles. In smaller towns we’re a bit more reticent. Now, after climbing the entrance stairs of the ivy-clad grand dame of Bury’s Angel Hill, you walk straight into a highway that leads to the bar, restaurant or seating area. An inviting space for a chilled glass of wine or cocktail.
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A pitch-black stairwell (lit at the sides but hold onto the railings if you’re in heels) delves you deeper into the underbelly of the building, and a crypt of craggy exposed stonework softened by black paint, niches set into the walls bearing flickering candles, crisp white linen-lined tables, a soundtrack of funk and soul music. I was mightily pleased to see the half-naked woman/half bird paintings of old had gone!
The acoustics of the intimate space sent the sound of people chatting and glasses clinking reverberating around the room. Ah, the melody of normality returning.
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Once seated we looked over the two menus – both exclusive to the event – one of ‘tapas’ split into meat, veggie, fish and sweet options priced between £3 an £8, the other, cocktails, again, prepared especially for the night.
To begin, Tom (also a dab-hand at mixed drinks) brought a sherbetty drivers’ drink for Mr J, of freshly squeezed blood orange juice with lemonade.
For me, there was a devilishly good, frothy-headed Cherry Bourbon Sour, which slipped down much too nicely.
The food came out thick and fast, thank goodness the tables are big enough.
To begin, golden truffle and Parmesan cauliflower tempura sitting on a sharp, buttery emulsion. The cruciferous veg was nicely cooked – retaining a bit of bite. And the truffle was there. But for me this needed more salt, more Parmesan or a more generous helping of the sauce to carry it along. A pizzette of crunchy fried dough laden with spinach and a runny, dippy egg, with a sprinkling of sea salt flakes, was simple but effective. It reminded me of something I’ve eaten before in a Sevillian tapas bar. The taste of good olive oil came through nicely.
Fresh-as-you-like fritto misto (battered, mixed fish) arrived next. A duo of flaky white fish, and the tenderest, no-need-to-chew, calamari, bound in beer batter with an aioli dip. I need to know chef Scott’s secret. Hands-down the best calamari I’ve eaten in the last couple of years.
Another fish course arrived shortly after. And a pleasingly light one, to counteract the prior courses. Sea bream ceviche. Now raw fish can seem scary, but keep in mind it’s not actually raw. As common as bread and butter in South America, ceviche is dressed in the poetically named Tiger’s Milk, a citrussy concoction that effectively ‘cooks’ the seafood using acid. The Angel’s version packed a punch. Thin slips of fish, perfectly tender, with a tingle of wasabi in the avocado sauce, and brightness from a layer of house pickles on top. We were slower with pace on this one, reserving it to nibble between the richer courses.
I have to point out, by this stage our pristine tablecloth resembled a Jackson Pollack painting. Sharing is messy!
Meaty things came out next. Oh so squidgy bao buns filled with shredded, Asian-scented quail meat, served with a dip that bounced from honey sweet to soy, to a waft of chilli heat. Delightful.
Then was a phenomenal pair of braised beef cheeks. Another ingredient non-foodies might be wary of. But don’t be. Imagine them as the beefiest, most succulent pieces of meat you could ever eat. Infused with the very essence of beef, the cheeks disintegrated under the fork into umami flakes and were complemented well be a saute of chilli and fennel. Moreish stuff. Like the cauliflower though, I felt the polenta underneath needed more seasoning.
A plate of sweet Spanish jamon with manchego cubes was a classic tapas dish presented nicely.
And Tom suggested the chicken wings. Though we were getting full, I’m glad we ordered those because they were really really very good. Cooked sous vide, the meat slipped off the bone like butter. The inside soft. The outside crispy, toothsome and glossy with a miso and sesame dressing.
Another cocktail arrived. This time a tall glass of Rhubarb Mule. A tart, but spicy blend of rhubarb vodka, ginger beer and bitters, with loads of crushed ice. This came just in time to go with our last savoury plate. A crostini of white and brown Cromer crab meat, bound in a sweetly salty herb-flecked dressing with slivers of pickled cucumber and avocado.
Did we have room for dessert? Of course!
There was a mousse-like, wispy, airy tiramisu in a double-insulated glass, layered with such precision you could probably take a level to it.
I could take or leave the Portuguese-style custard tart. The pastry wasn’t crispy or flaky enough, and the filling quite bland.
I thought the dainty white chocolate panna cotta with freeze dried and fresh strawberries was a little star, collapsing beautifully under the spoon, and barely set – as it should be.
But let’s talk churros. I’ve eaten the ubiquitous Spanish snack across the country (Spain that is), even at its most famous outlet, San Gines in Madrid, but I can tell you the version dished up in the Vaults of The Angel is the best I have had. Anywhere. I rarely order these as they’re often spectacularly greasy in the wrong hands. But here they were crunchy, spongy in the centre, sparkling with loads of sugar and cinnamon, and delivered with a deep, dark cocoa-rich chocolate sauce for balance. Of the four on the plate, Mr J got one....but I did let him polish off the tiramisu...so.
What a great experience. And even more impressive upon learning there were only three chefs in the kitchen that night, with a full restaurant upstairs.
Who knows when it will happen again? Keep an eye on Instagram @angel_hotel_bury or drop them a line to see if they’ll let you in on the next date.
In the meantime, the hotel is hosting wine dinners. The next available date is South American wines on September 8, matching five courses wine pairings.