The Angel at Hetton was among the UK’s first gastropubs but has been taken to new heights by acclaimed chef Michael Wignall and his wife Johanna. The pair acquired the 15th century pub in 2018 and have completely overhauled it, creating a space that’s more top-flight restaurant than country pub.
The project is something of a homecoming for Wignall, who was born in the North but has spent most of his high-flying career in the South.
“I always said that there’s really nothing for me to come back north and I’d always stay in the south but when you come back you forget how beautiful it is and what it has got to offer,” says Wignall, who is one of the UK’s most respected and accomplished chefs having so far won a Michelin star in every kitchen he has helmed since 1993. The last two venues he has headed – in Surrey and in Devon – won and retained two stars under his stewardship.
The menu echoes the interior - don’t expect a ploughman’s or a burger - but prices are surprisingly approachable for a chef of Wignall’s calibre with the tasting menu currently under £100 (a la carte is also available). Current dishes include Shetland white crab, razor clams, buttermilk, Oscietra caviar and green strawberries; Iberico secreto, calves sweetbread, Lancashire pak choi and jamón dashi; and poached and crémeux blackberries, lavender honey, sweet cicely and clotted cream.
“The food style is influenced by the area and the building. And obviously the staff that you’ve got as well. It’s ever evolving. There are some classics coming back that we’ve done years ago that we’ve rethought about and rejigged and things. We are ever-evolving and hopefully ever pushing forward,” he says.
Part of the reason Wignall is so respected by his peers is his focus on his craft. He is a near constant presence in The Angel’s ultra-modern kitchen and would rather spend his time refining his dishes with his team than doing media interviews.
“My management style is very hands on, it always has been,” he says. “The most important thing for me is that I’m always in the business. If you expect someone to work hard and be dedicated to your business. I’m there with them. I’m there at the same time in the mornings and the same time at night. You can’t expect someone to mop the floor if you’re too special to do it.”
The Gastropub of the Year award is sponsored by Estrella Damm.