Angels at your table
Debra Waters visits Archangel, a restaurant with rooms tucked away in the heart of the unassuming Somerset town of Frome, and finds it’s heaven sent.
Frome is not a place you’d think to spend a weekend. Built on steep hills with cobbled streets, it’s an unspoilt historic market town that’s often overlooked in favour of more glamorous destinations nearby. But the arrival of Archangel – a renovated former coaching inn with six classy bedrooms and a promising restaurant – could turn this modest place into a destination of its own.
No expense has been spared updating the ancient, decrepit Angel pub into a stylish, contemporary space. A long corridor with a glass ceiling connects the higgle piggle of small rooms that comprise a bar, restaurant and homely snug with fat sofas and a come-hither fireplace.
Copper trough basins and large angel murals elevate the toilets – always a barometer of quality – to heavenly loo status. Upstairs, there’s a library to relax in, and a private Naval Room with large designer lampshades and distressed plaster décor. Outside, there is a chic, walled courtyard.
The 70-seat restaurant has, in previous eras, served as both stables and junk room. Today it is both rustic and starkly contemporaneous – whitewashed stone walls are married with a floating mezzanine of glass and steel. The ceiling is high; the tables well spaced; the ambience relaxed. Food is honest, ideally portioned, and pleasingly priced. John Melican – who worked with Simon Hopkinson at Bibendum and Sean Hope at The Olive Branch in Rutland – has created an appealing menu that shows flashes of talent for combining flavour.
Our starters of Pickled and cured Silverside, globe artichokes and baby watercress, and Red wine poached pear, pickled beetroot and deep-fried Somerset Brie are appetizing and unpretentious. For mains, Grilled Dorset plaice with saffron potatoes, butter sauce and tangy olive purée (pictured) is a delicately flavoured dish that’s creamy and fresh – the scented pots and olive sauce tango as confidently as two ballroom pros. The Half-spit roasted pheasant with red cabbage purée and bread sauce is cooked with flair; the side of buttery Brussels with lardons moreishly salty. An intriguing banana fritter pud is not the stodge reminiscent of 1980’s Chinese restaurants but a tastefully assembled stack of fruit with chocolate sorbet. The noteworthy wine list offers 125ml and 250ml sizes, an option that should be rolled out to all restaurants if there’s any justice to paying customers who don’t (always) want to over-indulge.
We stay in Room 5; a large, beamed en-suite in the eaves with a view over ancient rooftops. Simply and elegantly decorated in a bold purple and gold colour scheme, the bed is comfortable and the organic toiletries and locally-sourced bottled water welcome touches. There’s also WIFI and TV with Freeview, though the pièce de résistance is the deep bath, which along with low lighting encourages a positive vibe for romance.
Breakfast deserves a mention: fresh juice, Dorset Cereals, fat croissants and zesty, syrupy home-made marmalade. Cooked options include a porridge pancake with fruit compote, an original and appealing take on the mundane, cholesterol-busting breakfast.
There are a couple of hiccups: my main course arrives cold, but is whisked away in a flurry of sincere apologies along with options to keep my dining partner’s meal warm or have it re-done so we can eat together; not everyone will appreciate the busy communal areas on Friday and Saturday evenings (others will love the buzz, however); and Room 6, a lovely room, is blighted by it position, looking out onto the corridor which holds the overspill of drinkers on a weekend (for a quiet night ask for Room 4 or 5).
On the plus side, staff are genuine and welcoming; the restaurant and rooms are intimate and impressively decorated; you won’t be disappointed by the food; and friendly Frome – less hectic than Bristol and cheaper than Bath – is a great base for visiting the surrounding area. Self-effacing, yet cool and sexy, Archangel offers good value for money in an expensive part of the country.
Rooms cost £80 for a single; £120 for a double, B&B.
1 King Street
T: 01373 455 568