The Little Angel, Henley – a posh dining experience that charms but confuses (a review) – Jon Oxtoby Writes

The Little Angel, Henley – a posh dining experience that charms but confuses (a review)

Overall score: 3/5

 

We ate here as part of my wife’s elongated 30th birthday celebrations (making a 30th birthday special during COVID restrictions is no mean feat, and one we achieved with multiple outings over a few weeks!) This was the first part of the celebration, to be enjoyed with her family, and we were looking forward to it.

 

When we arrived, we immediately noticed the “under new management” sign, and wondered what would be different. We all had experience of the Little Angel under its previous management, which had been unfortunately characterised by extraordinary waiting times between ordering a meal and it deigning to appear on our tables. We looked forward to the new management’s approach to cuisine, therefore, with anticipation.

 

Our first impression was that they had dialled up the foliage inside the dining area by a few notches, so that it felt, in a pleasant way, very much as though we were eating in a slightly overgrown greenhouse. This fortunately gave me ample plants to hide behind to cover my embarrassment – having agreed with Georgia’s family that we’d all dress up for dinner, I had then forgotten this and turned up in jeans and a shirt.

 

We all inspected the menu. The main thing to note about it is that steak is the cheapest item on this menu. I watched my in-laws’ faces grow more and more confused as they inspected the menu. The establishment has gone for what I believe is the traditional approach to making food posh – take a nice meal, add one or more horrid ingredients, and increase the price by 60%. Oddly, the ratio of tasty to horrid ingredients got better as you went down the menu, so that the most expensive item – clocking in at a gobsmacking £35 – was a simple cheeseburger, admittedly made with Wagyu beef. Crucially, meals were also served without side dishes – meaning that to order a complete meal, you had to order three separate items. I’ve never been sure why posh restaurants do this – I assume that when your customers have no financial worries, you have to invent little annoyances for them to give them a sense of perspective.

 

Some of the ingredients were so bizarre that we had to ask the waitress to interpret for us. We discovered that bone marrow croquet is exactly what it sounds like – bone marrow, dressed up like a potato croquet – which caused an involuntary exclamation of disgust from one of the party. I discovered that trompettes are a kind of mushroom.

 

We also discovered that, for some reason, the steak could only be cooked medium rare or well done. This was relevant because one of our party was on a restricted diet, which for some reason required a medium steak (I still don’t know why). The waitress was initially firm that a medium steak would be impossible to prepare, until finally consenting to ask the kitchen. After a tense wait, she confirmed that – on this occasion, and due to the medical nature of the request – the chef would be able to manage a medium steak. No explanation was forthcoming as to why this chef could only alter his cooking regime when presented with the threat of an ill guest, but by this stage our party was too dazed and confused by the menu to query the logic any further. The rest of the party ordered:

 

  • Chicken (yum) with Celeriac (yuck), Charred Cos (what?), Macadamia (why?), Black Pudding Crumb (asked for by no one, ever), Tarragon (OK), and Jus (just plain Jus, apparently).
  • Flat Iron Steak (lovely), Bone Marrow Croquette (moving on), Shallot (just the one?), Bearnaise Sauce (widely regarded as the least popular sauce).
  • Cornish Cod (wow!), Confit Chorizo (odd, but OK), Langoustine Bisque (… okay?), Peas (just peas. Nothing weird added. You can tell we’re at the top end of the menu here), BBQ sweetcorn (naturally).
  • My order: Tarragon Gnocchi (what’s Tarragon like, I wondered?), Caramelised Mushroom Puree (posh, but OK), Mushroom Powder (eh?), Trompettes (to be clear, another variety of mushroom), Chive (again, just the one chive).

In the Little Angel’s defence, it must be stated that the food was DELICIOUS. The chicken wasn’t too dry, the steaks were done to perfection, the fish was excellent. I could tell that my Gnocchi was expertly made. It also made for a full and, I would argue overpowering, introduction to Tarragon as a flavour. The mushroom powder was nowhere to be seen, though it may have combined with the puree to become… well, more puree I suppose. We discovered that the dreaded bone marrow croquette tasted very similar to garlic butter. Which, we thought, begs the question – why not just have garlic butter?

 

Mains demolished, we moved on to desserts. These proved to be more normal affairs (even posh restaurants know that if you mess with a sticky toffee pudding there will be consequences). I opted for the cheesecake, knowing that this was certainly the calibre of establishment that would put dates in the sticky toffee pudding that, while apparently a main ingredient, would render it gross in my eyes.

 

My cheesecake arrived – and to my bemusement it was a deconstructed cheesecake. If anyone out there has been yearning to try a cheesecake freed from the tyrannous bonds of construction, I can save you time by confirming that it does nothing to improve the flavour, or the appearance. It tasted exactly the same as a regular cheesecake (and again was very tasty). The sole advantage to a deconstructed cheesecake, I must therefore conclude, is moral. To my chagrin, my brother in law’s sticky toffee pudding arrived fully constructed and date-free, which just goes to show that you should NEVER try to second guess the menu choices in a posh restaurant.

 

So – would I go again? I must confess, probably not. The meal was incredibly tasty, but also incredibly pricey, and though the adventure of interpreting the menu and ordering was diverting, it certainly didn’t feel like it justified a meal that was 40% more than I was expecting to pay.

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