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Unfiltered: Richard Clark, The Angel Inn

The restaurateur of The Angel Inn, Stoke-by-Nayland, talks to Douglas Blyde about art, be it on walls or in the glass, the recognition deserved by English wines, and the joy of Port.

When did you acquire The Angel Inn?

My family purchased The Angel Inn in 2011. It was in a poor state in need of major refurbishment and upgrade. Following a multi-million-pound, sensitive restoration project, the historic buildings have now been completely restored preserving their seventeenth-century heritage while carefully incorporating twenty-first-century services and infrastructure.

What did you do before?

I was a lawyer. Although I had a largely commercial practice, I developed an interest and specialisation in art law. For me it was the perfect platform to blend my legal training with my love of art.

How does your interest in art manifest at The Angel Inn?

The Angel Inn has some important original art, all of which is from the family collection. This includes old masters such as an important portrait of Cosimo di Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, to post-war and modern British works by Peter Lanyon and Graham Sutherland.

From where does your interest in wine stem?

My love for wine goes back over forty years when I took over the management of my family’s wine cellar in my twenties. I started reading and learning about wine, and went on a number of courses including trips to several wine-growing districts and vineyards in Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Napa Valley, and various parts of Italy.

How do you source wines?

We have had a long relationship with Hallgarten, but we also use niche suppliers for particular geographies or varieties. Additionally, many of our fine and rare wines come from the family cellar.

What is the “Private Collection” list?

Many of the wines on The Angel Inn wine list have come from the family cellar, particularly those in the Private Collection part of the list. One advantage of drawing on this is that it is often possible to offer rare wines which are not always readily available in the UK. Similarly, the pricing of some of wines is at a level below the prices in many other restaurants.

Do you rate the wines of England?

Absolutely. I think English wine is still under-appreciated. There are some exceptional – especially sparkling and white – wines being produced in England. We are keen to expand our offer of quality English wines.

What wine style or grape could you happily live without?

A difficult question because I do like a wide variety of wines from all over the world. If forced to single out one grape variety which I could do without, it would probably be the Schiava grape from northern Italy. I tasted some wines from the Alto Adige region made with this grape and I am afraid it did not quite do it for me. That said, I am sure there must be some good producers out there. I heard Elena Welch is now producing a Schiava and I am sure that will impress.

And what style or grape deserves to be put in the spotlight?

I am not sure where to start. In addition to English wines, Chenin Blanc, Godello, and the wonderful Burgundy-like reds from Germany, Austria and Switzerland which tend to get overlooked outside their own country. Lastly, I think vintage Port must be one of the bargains of the century. Compared to the cost of fine wines, Port is relatively cheap and a wonderful drink.

Do you deploy Coravin?

Yes, it enables us to offer high-level wines by the glass. Unlike a London venue, when we open a bottle of a high-level wine for sale by the glass, we may not sell it all in one day. Coravin gives us that extra shelf life which means we can offer more wines by the glass.

Do you have a sommelier-type figure in addition to yourself at The Angel Inn?

Normally yes, but our wonderful Italian sommelier left us recently for Scotland. So, if anyone reading this would like to work in a beautiful part of the country and join us in our passion for superb food and wine – we would be delighted to hear from him or her.

Who is the chef at The Angel Inn?

Since the summer of 2021, the kitchen has been overseen by Rubén Aguilar Bel, whose CV includes Raco De Can, Akelarre, and Mugaritz in Spain, and Canvas in London. Meanwhile, Bel’s wife, Gabbi, heads up pastry.

How do you celebrate the local larder?

We use local ingredients and suppliers wherever possible. Fortunately, Suffolk is blessed with a wide range of wonderful local food suppliers. Fish from the Suffolk coast, excellent farms and orchards.

What is your favourite table in the house, and why?

This depends on the time of year. In winter, I love one of the tables in front of our splendid fireplace which has a rare Charles I fire hearth. In the summer, I love lunch outside in our courtyard garden. The scent of lavender and honeysuckle while enjoying wonderful food and wine is very special. If I am hosting a large or private event, I go for one of our two private rooms – the spectacular Well Room or the smaller Green Room.

Do you have other interests in hospitality?

In addition to The Angel Inn, Stoke-by-Nayland, and its sister site, The Anchor Inn, Nayland, the business also owns and runs Sail Lofts-St Ives which operates luxury holiday properties in the famous town.

Do you prefer an aperitif or digestif?

I can be tempted by both. However, generally, I am a digestif person. I am particularly fond of a fine grappa or vintage Calvados.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Time travel would be handy.

Finally, who, from history, would you like to sit down to lunch with, and what would you drink?

There are so many candidates, but I think it would have to be Leonardo di Vinci. He was the Renaissance man with so many skills and talents, that there would be no shortage of good conversation. The other Italian historical figure who comes to mind is Galileo. Apart from his remarkable contribution to science and astronomy, he is reputed to have described wine as “sunlight held together by water”.

The Angel Inn, Stoke-by-Nayland – Polstead St, Stoke-by-Nayland, Colchester CO6 4SA; 01206 263245;;

To read Blyde‘s recent review of The Angle Inn, click here.

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