To many critics, London has eclipsed Paris as the food capital of Europe. This applies not only to high end fine dining but also to less grand but no less worthy restaurants such as Angelus. At this brasserie de luxe, the distinction between the two capitals disappears as classic French food and design are integrated into a traditional converted British pub. Indeed, the relaxed, homely feel and Gallic buzz during a busy service are almost palpable.
Having opened to critical acclaim in 2007, Angelus has maintained its high standards and loyal following over the last four years. The Auld Alliance, now personified in French founder owner Thierry Tomasin and Scottish head chef Martin Nisbet, has produced a delightful gem of a restaurant in the heart of the English capital. Their success is built on impressive professional experience. Thierry was Chief Sommelier at Le Gavroche for twelve years before being General Manager of Aubergine for the next five. Amongst his many accolades are the Chairman Sommelier of Britain (1996) and the Excellence Award Master of Culinary Art. and Tatler Best Maitre d’ for 2005. Martin was Senior Sous Chef under Anton Edelmann at the Savoy and ran his own restaurant in Hertfordshire before coming to Angelus in 2009.
True to his origins, Thierry has designed Angelus to replicate the traditional elements of a French brasserie. The handsome exterior with purple grey awning has terrace tables for al fresco dining. Inside, simple square tables – closely arranged as in France to encourage conviviality – are set against luxurious leather banquettes, dark wood décor and Art Deco stylised mirrors which give a greater sense of space. ‘Murano’ glass chandeliers hang from the original high ceilings to provide ample lighting. The glamourous lounge is more eclectic in design, with supremely comfortable crushed velvet banquettes, stencilled walls and exotic soft lighting. The private dining room in the old pub cellar features a glass wall overlooking the prized wine cellar.
Martin Nisbet’s carte of seven entrees, eight plats and six desserts showcases seasonal specialities, cooked precisely and presented simply. Strong, bold flavours and rich sauces abound, yet main courses, which include vegetable garnishes, are remarkably well balanced in taste and texture.
A signature entrée of Foie gras crème brulee “Angelus” was outstanding. Ethereally light, meltingly soft and decadently rich, the parfait contrasted in taste and texture with its crisp, delicate sweet topping of caramelised brown sugar, almonds and poppy seeds. Served in the shallow well of a simple white bowl, which set off the extravagant contents well, this was a remarkable, memorable opening to the meal.
An alternative starter featured Loch Duart salmon, gently marinated in citrus to cut its rich oiliness. The resulting pure, clean taste of the fish was enhanced by the sourness of herb crème fraiche and the saltiness of a caviar garnish. Again, the simple presentation of this dish added to its attraction. The white wine offered – Maison Chanson, Macon Villages 2009 – went well with both dishes. Pale gold in colour, it had a delicate floral fragrance, good acidity and subtle minerality.
A main course of roasted stone bass was far from the wreck that has given this fish its alternative name. Indeed, the utterly fresh fillet had been perfectly timed to produce crisp skin and flakes of succulent flesh. Confit chicken wings provided a denser texture and sweeter taste, whilst potato mash was lifted by the addition of smoked garlic and lemon. Red wine jus brought the other elements of this successful dish together.
More robust flavours were to be found in Hare Royale, so rarely seen on menus that that the diner is almost inevitably drawn to it. Nor did it disappoint. The ballotine of dark meat, cooked with bacon and sitting in a pool of its intense thickened braising jus, was moist and gamey, but not overwhelmingly so. Added richness came from the foie gras stuffing, whilst glazed chestnuts and cubes of roasted butternut squash gave sweetness and textural contrast to balance the supremely earthy qualities of the hare. This was a tour de force of classical French cooking. The wine with this dish, Chateau Civrac, Cote de Bourg, 2009, was light bodied with soft fruit notes.
Another ambitious and rarely seen dish, this time from the dessert menu, was Souffle Rothschild. This was classically flavoured with candied fruit and well risen, if slightly too eggy in texture. However, the orange sauce spiked with Grand Marnier and a gently soured orange yogurt ice cream were inspired additions which complemented the sweet, warm soufflé perfectly.
In a simpler dessert, roasted pear, delicate and soft, was served with an intense rum and muscavado jelly and a well balanced gingerbread ice cream. Here was another combination of tastes and textures which worked perfectly together. (Wine: Clos Dady 2007, Sauternes)
Other aspects of dining at Angelus, from the rustic bread, good coffee, and well informed, efficient service, were all first rate. Overseeing the whole operation, and greeting us with characteristic Gallic charm was Thierry Tomasin, whose passion for and dedication to his craft are clearly evident. Overall, there seems no reason why Angelus should not go from strength to strength, consolidating its position as an excellent neighbourhood restaurant whilst, given its proximity to Lancaster Gate and Paddington stations, attracting those from further afield.