Stuart Ungar, ModernPilot.com’s own gastronaut flies into Exeter to check on John Burton Race’s New Angel in Dartmouth. Is the TV celebrity chef as flamboyant on the plate as he is on the screen?
I confess I would fly hundreds of miles for a great meal. The reviews on this website are evidence of this passion to savour delicious tastes. However, as I get older my desires have leaned away from complicated dishes with exotic sauces and more towards simpler dishes, well prepared from excellent ingredients. As a dedicated hedonist that special effort to travel a great distance to ‘live off the land’ makes the occasion more special than going to that same restaurant if it were a short distance from home. Consequently on these focused expeditions the chef has much more work to do to impress me than he might do if I were grazing on my home patch. Having said all this a 150 mile journey to The New Angel was undoubtedly worth the trouble.
John Burton Race’s latest venture, The New Angel, in Dartmouth, Devon is housed in a half-timbered building right on the quay. The natural beauty of Devon, and especially the spectacular setting on the River Dart, is a wonderful environment to enjoy a leisurely lunch. The sunlight reflecting off the water a few yards away from my table lit the unfussy dining room and gave it a brilliant, very alive feel.
I have followed John Burton Race since he managed The Petit Blanc in Oxford in the early 1980s. When he opened L’Ortolan, near Reading, in 1986 he gained two Michelin stars, and then moved onto The Landmark Hotel in London. In each of these establishments I found his food was superb. The New Angel has a very different motif from his previous restaurants, which were more in the grand style. The New Angel is buzzy and has a relatively unadorned dining room without any tablecloths, or carpet. Half one wall is replaced by a bar top, which leads across into the kitchen so that all the delicious looking dishes appearing one after another are on full view to the hungry multitude. I was bowled over by the seeming simplicity of the fresh tasting dishes. As an accomplished chef John Burton Race framed the superlative fresh flavours of the locally sourced ingredients in a simple way, done with great sensitivity, so that they were enhanced, not masked. The menu is heavily weighted towards seafood, which is sourced from Devon’s day-boats.
Due to a late start we arrived an hour late for our booking, but the staff was very gracious even though the kitchen was beginning to close. They accommodated us with great charm, the young French waitress quickly exploring with the kitchen what could be provided for a pair of hungry (by this time ravenous) aviators. For whatever reason meat dishes were not possible for us, but who cared because seafood was their speciality. I must say neither of us were disappointed. The kitchen rapidly came alive again when we put in our order. Matthew started with a grilled beetroot and fig tart covered with melted cheese. The dish was absolutely
delicious as was my starter of a freshly grilled mackerel surrounded by baby pickled mushrooms and grapes in a very light and gentle marinade. Again superb. Matthew’s celeriac open lasagne was both unusual, and delicate, melting in the mouth and seemed to disappear very rapidly leaving him with a Cheshire-cat like grin. When I had the last mouthful of my dish of John Dory in a light cream and vegetable sauce my facial expression mirrored Mathew’s. We just sat back and smiled at each other contently. Perhaps I was more content than Matthew as I had flown down to Exeter and Matthew was flying back. Consequently I had been able to down a few glasses of a fruity, fresh white Cote du Rhone, from the Domaine de la Janasse – excellent value at £21 per bottle.
John Burton Race sent me away delighted I had taken the trouble to fly from Denham. He had passed his unwitting exam with flying colours. As far as we were concerned he richly deserved his Michelin star.
PS John Burton-Race has moved on from The New Angel since this review was written, but the restaurant is still there.