Review by Fiona Duncan, published 7th May 2010.
Two fine Georgian coaching inns compete for attention in Georgian Midhurst, and it has been ever thus. Elizabeth I is said to have stayed at the Spread Eagle, and Guy Fawkes, butler at Cowdray Castle, used to drink (and presumably plot) in the Angel. Not long ago I spent the night at the Spread Eagle; now it's the turn of its friendly rival, which has recently been revamped.
It has also been truncated. In order to pay for the necessary improvements, a large chunk of the hotel and its two-acre riverside garden were sold for redevelopment as housing. The courtyards and rose garden overlooking Cowdray Castle have also sadly gone – such is life – and there are views of the atmospheric ruins from only two of the 15 remaining bedrooms.
The top-to-toe decoration has been orchestrated by manager Maarten Hoffman, whom I met two or three years ago when I looked around his previous establishment in Brighton. Giving no hint of the flights of fancy within, it had jaw-dropping themed bedrooms that ranged from an Alpine stübli to a space rocket, and a tropical jungle to a desert kasbah. I wondered what I would find at the Angel, but he's managed to restrain himself.
Not that Hoffman has entirely dispensed with quirkiness. "Stop looking at me like that," said my friend Geraldine to the portrait of a mournful-looking cow whose accusing eyes bore down on us as we tucked into the restaurant's speciality: beef. Though they look out of place in the otherwise fairly ordinary hotel dining room (great fireplace, though), the three large bovine portraits are a reminder that this is now Bentley's Grill, specialising in the finest Argentinian steak. And very fine it is too.
The steak was perfect, served on wooden boards with béarnaise sauce and chunky chips, though the rest of the food (a shellfish risotto honourably excepted) was less appealing, especially a flaccid soufflé and puddings piled with whipped cream and doused in sickly toffee sauce.
If the layout of the truncated ground floor, with café at the front, restaurant behind and entrance hall for hotel guests at the side, is confusing and lacking in focus (and the brand-new carpets have already taken a drubbing), then the bedrooms make up. All are attractive, and Hoffman's eye for design has resulted in some real delights, particularly among the elegant, affordable standard rooms such as Goodwood, with its dashing flowery headboard, and Singleton with its splashes of pink. Also notable is Jostling, a joyful superior room with a view of the castle and light flooding in on two sides. And then there's our junior suite, The Princess and the Pea, with deep red walls and a splendid mahogany four-poster. Hoffman swore he'd put a bag of frozen peas under the mattress, but I couldn't feel them so I can't be a princess after all.
- North Street, Midhurst (01730 812421; www.theangelmidhurst.co.uk). Doubles from £85 per night, £100 in summer, including breakfast. Access possible for guests with disabilities.