What is the story?
Dedham Vale is an area of outstanding natural beauty full of single-lane roads, cast-iron Victorian road signs and crooked Tudor buildings. Among them is the gourmet restaurant Angel Inn in Stoke-by-Nayland. Independently owned by Suffolk Country Inns, the former 16th century pitstop and travellers’ pub has undergone a two-year renovation. As well as renovating the existing restaurant and six bedrooms, the owners bought and restored a stable next door, removing the concrete walls, exposing the original beams and adding five new bedrooms.
What do we like?
Chef Ruben Aguilar Bel’s sumptuous creations are the draw – when a tasting menu’s curtain raiser is this crisp and springy, you know you’re in good hands. The following nine courses are a whirlwind of Spanish-Anglo flair: Dedham Vale venison tartare with currants and parmesan; a gamey and crispy hare risotto; and the Iberian pork “secreto” (so called because Spanish butchers keep the cut for themselves) cooked on a charcoal grill. At the end, a wonderful surprise: a plate of petit fours, with black olive chocolate ganache – the most brilliantly confusing umami yet sweet confectionery I’ve eaten.
The Angel Inn offers fine dining
The small but cozy bar, just behind the fireplace, is perfect for an old-fashioned pre-dinner (£11) while choosing your wines. While a flight with wine pairing is available (£55 pp), the lure of sommelier Valerio Vallani’s selections made us opt for a bottle of Fitou 2020. Service from general manager Sean and Georgia, at the ‘front of the house, is relaxed but immaculate.
It was a brief, wine-hampered swing in a courtyard and upstairs in Speyer, our bedroom in the annex. Wobbly beams and windows add charm, but there’s also a huge freestanding bathtub behind a glass privacy panel that freezes at the touch of a button, USB outlets and, unusually for a building of this age, air-source underfloor heating in the bathroom.
A table-side full English breakfast is served in the Well Room, named after its unexpected feature – a 100-foot-deep well – including Suffolk sausage and thick black pudding.
The Angel Inn (front right)
This is Constable Country – the 18th century landscape artist was born on the road in East Bergholt – and nine courses mean a walk is a must. A circular route from the Angel passes Stoke-by-Nayland Church and the Elizabethan houses of the village, while marked paths lead to the ruins of Tendring Hall. A ten-minute drive across the border into Essex is the village of Dedham, with its cozy pub, The Sun. From there it’s a 40 minute meander to the hamlet of Flatford, where Constable painted The Hay Wain in 1821.
Laura Jackson was a guest at the Angel Inn, which offers double guest rooms from £325; tasting menu £85 pp (angelinnsuffolk.co.uk). Accessible; restaurant
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