I am one of several Foodie Bugle Reporters, whose job it is to review restaurants anonymously. My wife and I have been together for as long as my memory takes me back, and for all of that time we have been repeatedly going back to the same “institution” for treats, high days and holidays. It stays remarkably unchanged, unapologetically static and comfortingly old fashioned. I have never seen an empty table in the restaurant there in all this time.
At The Sign of the Angel in Lacock is the panelled Miss. Haversham’s drawing room of the hospitality trade. And I am convinced that it is its unflinching and resolute reluctance to embrace the modern world, weekly menu changes and passing food fashions that makes it so bewitching and beloved. And let us not forget, also, that it is its location that adds to the unforgettable magic.
Lacock is a village near Chippenham in Wiltshire that was bequeathed to the National Trust by the last inhabitant of the Abbey, a member of the Fox Talbot family. The Abbey was founded in 1232 by Ela the Countess of Salisbury, as an Augustine nunnery. As you drive past it on your way to the centre of the village you are immediately enraptured by the beauty of the place. Nowhere in England is continuity and connectedness to the English way of life so prevalent. In this picturesque backwater the clock has, indeed, stopped ticking.
But back to The Angel. As you enter through the 16th Century timber door and framed overhang, you walk into an establishment that has been in the same family for 58 years. Into the black beamed, wool merchant’s dining room, through the inn’s smoky air, you will be welcomed by solid, dependable, brown furniture, Liberty print curtains, faded, cardinal red velvet cushioned dining chairs and three massive stone fireplaces in three different dining rooms. The staff are as efficient as ship cadets, dressed in black and guiding you to your candle lit table. Green tablemats of St. George slaying the dragon, silver cruets, Royal Doulton chinese rose porcelain, nothing, I tell you, nothing has ever, or will ever change here. The dust above the mantelpiece wine rack is possibly Georgian.
The menu is British to the core, and the Sunday lunches are the stuff of legend: piping hot, brown edged roast potatoes, pink local slices of rib of beef, puffy Yorkshire puddings the size of gull’s eggs and lashings of meaty, rich gravy. The evening menus are equally reliable; soft salmon mousses with cucumber and dill, whipped to a creamy softness and perfectly cooked, small scallops, served with crispy black pudding and bacon slithers. Accompaniments are simple: a plain salad, steamed fresh, purple sprouting broccoli, maybe a slice of lemon, or a pot of horseradish or mustard, with a little silver spoon. No pomp, no circumstance, and may the good Lord help us, no pretention.
We have stayed the night on a few occasions. The six bedrooms are quite small, very cosy, with beautiful, old fashioned wooden four poster beds, good mattresses, fluffy white towels and piping hot water in reassuringly heavy and deep cast iron bath tubs. You will be feel comfortable, warm and sleepy in a blanket of peace. The oak floor boards undulate and creak under your feet, the timber framed walls curve and bend as you duck your head while climbing the narrow stairs. There are no straight lines in this building, no nod whatsoever to intrusive modernity. All around you the gentle, calm babble of the understated clientele enjoying a peaceful night out. The average age is in the Autumn of the calendar of life, the voting demographics probably completely Tory, the newspaper in the morning is most likely The Telegraph and for your toast it’s homemade Seville marmalade. It is all, quite simply, much copied, never bettered, completely exemplary, and if this establishment ever came up for sale there would be a rallying bidding frenzy to rival the sale of a Matisse watercolour at Bonham’s.
Do not miss going upstairs to see the friendly cat, purring gently on the squashy drawing room sofa by the fireside. He has landed in a pot of jam. In this green and pleasant village, in this Jerusalem, that shall be forever England.
E-mail: [email protected]
6 Church Street
Wiltshire SN15 2LB