Archangel, Frome, Somerset
“Imaginative lighting, good food and 'modern medieval' decor make this a welcome arrival in Frome”
Review by Fiona Duncan, published 23rd March 2011.
Here's a coaching inn whose owners – and architect – have taken a novel approach: they've let the building do the talking.
The Angel Inn was in a particularly terrible state. Despite its long history, dating back as far as the Domesday Book, it had become an uninviting pub where a while had passed since love had been lavished. Indeed, when the new owner Simon Waterfield went in months after it had suddenly closed, he found beer still in pint glasses and cigarettes in ashtrays. The regulars must have moved on to somewhere else, though it's hard to know where, with pubs in Britain closing at 50 per week these days.
Simon changed the name of the inn to Archangel and began restoration. Think modern medieval. Architect Piers Taylor has preserved the ancient beams and walls and put them on show, conserving their patina and leaving them largely unadorned to speak eloquently for themselves. This is especially true in the barn-like restaurant, which has a mezzanine floor and a suspended glass "cube" that cradles a private dining table close to the cross beams, on which rows of "candles" (actually electric) appear to burn and drip wax.
It's original, but not without its problems, and doesn't suit all (ask my brother-in-law). At night the moody purple and black sitting rooms can feel uncomfortably cramped, especially if you are perched on the narrow banquette, and the tapas-style room beyond the bar simply doesn't work.
Head instead for the upstairs Naval Room, decorated in honour of Simon's submariner father, with a long table formed from a naval honours board listing commanders of the Far East station plus pleated pendant lights by Bruce Munro that are meant to – and do – give the feel of a low-ceilinged submarine ward room. Guests are encouraged to use this space and the sitting room next door, but finding it can be difficult unless you are shown, and you may feel somewhat cut off.
Drinking and dining (imaginative menu; good food) is the raison d'être of Archangel. The six bedrooms are tucked away upstairs, decorated with giant angels and arresting if impractical metal slipper baths. Some are cramped, but they have burnished gold French beds, purple curtains and amusing copper taps, and generally look good.
Archangel is new and its staff are still adapting as they discover what works best. All in all it's a welcome arrival in Frome and, as long as committed, hands-on management remains in place, I'm sure it will do very well.
- King Street, Frome (01373 456111; www.archangelfrome.com). Doubles £120 per night, including breakfast. Not suitable for guests with disabilities.
Even the arrival of Babington House hasn’t quite lifted Frome out of the shadows of its more glamorous neighbours Bath and Wells, but the market town has its own charm: boho without the chic. There is a thriving community of artists, and Black Swan Arts (2 Bridge Street; 01373 473980; www.blackswan.org.uk) is an excellent gallery of contemporary arts and craft. Individual shops in the cobbled side streets provide a welcome change from ubiquitous national retailers. If you fancy a visit to a hairdresser, head for Samantha Stock (07514 269015).
Nine miles south of Frome is Alfred’s Tower, a dizzying folly which when open (mid-March-October) offers spectacular views across Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire. The walk from there to the National Trust gardens of Stourhead will take about an hour and you can reward yourself with a meal at the Spread Eagle Inn (01747 840587).
Best local pub
Try the 15th-century Talbot (01371 812254; www.talbotinn.com) at Mells. After lunch (traditional English with a soupçon of French), take a turn around the nearby church, where Siegfried Sassoon is buried.
The Hotel Guru verdict
No 1 is best, then No 6; all are dramatic and fun, but some are a tight fit
Table service was slow, but there's no lack of commitment on the part of manager, chef and owner
A bold restoration; plenty of buzz; can be cramped
|Food and drink|
Imaginative, highly competent cooking from John Melican; but the porridge pancake was very odd
|Value for money|
Food expensive; room prices on the nail