Angel Delight - Bentley's Grill at The Angel Hotel

Lulu Larkin happened across Midhurst whilst perusing her August issue of Sussex Life. Immediately struck by the town she headed off there to find out more and to try the food at Bentley's Grill

Bentley’s Grill at The Angel Hotel

North Street, Midhurst, West Sussex GU29 9DN

tel: 01730 815928

AS a restaurant reviewer, I'm frequently asked how I decide which places to visit and whether I go in disguise. Well, I never wear a false moustache and always book in my real name which, of course, isn't Lulu Larkin. 

And as to which restaurants I choose to get my teeth into, I rely on personal recommendations from friends, family, readers and other critics. But my choice of Bentley’s at The Angel comes from a colleague I've never met. In the August issue of Sussex Life, Alice Jones visited Midhurst and I was immediately smitten by her description of this charming market town in the heart of the South Downs National Park.

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When Alice mentioned that Bentley's Grill at the 400-year-old Angel Hotel served the finest steaks in the world, I felt it my immediate duty to investigate this bold claim on your behalf. 

Daniel and I set off from Eastbourne in glorious sunshine and it felt as if we were going on holiday and, as we’d decided to stay overnight, I suppose we were.  We drove in through the archway into the cobbled courtyard of The Angel, where we greeted by co-owner and manager, Maarten Hoffmann, who took our bags and asked whether we’d like to see our room and then maybe have a drink? What a charming man and a mind-reader, too.

Over a perfectly-chilled glass of chilled Chablis, Maarten told us about his own early career running a scuba diving school in Belize and swimming with hammerhead sharks. Fascinating. So what lured him to Midhurst to run a hotel and open Bentley’s Grill specializing in steaks? And why Argentinean steaks (please don't write in, that's how the Chilean ambassador to the Court of St James spells it)?

Prompted by an article by Tom Parker Bowles mourning the demise of the great British steak house, he decided to create one. He tasted English and Scottish beef, which he agrees “was very good but not exceptional and I wanted the best.” A chance conversation with an Argentinean polo player led Maarten to discover what he believes to be the best steak in the world.

It comes from free-roaming happy cows, who are treated like pets by the gauchos and whose diet of “Pampas grass irrigated by the frigid waters of the Chilean mountain streams” give the meat its succulency and flavour. We were about to put it to the test that evening at dinner. The subtly-lit dining room was a modern echo of the original oak panels and beams with squishy leather chairs and tables, comfortably set apart, with fresh roses and sculpted starched napkins. The setting was overlooked by a triptych of black and white cows just to remind you why you were there.

Our waitress, Bonnie Tadhunter, as bonny as her name sounds, came over with the menu, two complimentary glasses of champagne and warm, freshly-cooked poppyseed rolls and salt, cracked pepper and olive oil to dip into. Mmm.

Although steak is the star, there are plenty of meat, fish and vegetarian choices, but Daniel and I were determined to carry out our carnivorous mission. D chose the carpaccio of beef with roasted beetroot, parmesan and horseradish cr�me fraiche to start – an inspired combination – while I opted for the house terrine, a chicken liver and bacon pate with port and prunes served with toasted ciabatta. Fabulous.

On Maarten's recommendation, we shared a chateaubriand fillet, which came already carved into manageable slices on a wooden board accompanied by a thick, creamy b�arnaise sauce and home-made fries. I must confess that the steak tasted out of this world and was everything a steak should be: robust in flavour yet moist and tender. I loved every delicious, yielding morsel. And it was cooked to absolute perfection by chef, Jonathan Hughes.

We didn’t think we could manage a dessert but I succumbed to the strawberry parfait with lavender shortbread while Daniel indulged in an amazing chocolate fondant with a berry coulis.

We moved into the courtyard for our splendid barista coffees feeling like two very contented cows.

After the best night’s sleep I’d had in ages, we went down to breakfast where Bonnie was already taking orders from a large crowd on their way to Goodwood, each one wanting something different: the full English without the beans, the full English with extra mushrooms but no sausage, the full English with no tomatoes, egg or bacon or fried bread etc. etc. And to her credit, she got every one right. But then Bonnie's a student of Maths and Higher Maths at King's College so it was simpler for her than a quadratic equation.

As we were checking out, we wished we were staying longer but promised to return. Maarten waved us off like old friends and asked whether we'd enjoyed our stay at The Angel. Yes, it was heavenly, thank you!

2 other Historic restaurants

ha ha bar & grill 

2-3 Pavilion Buildings, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 1EE

tel: 01273 737080

After singing your heart out and jiving off your bobby sox at Newhaven Fort's Battle of Britain nostalgia day (12 Sep), you'll be in need of a revival, too.

The ha ha bar & grill, a short drive along the coast, is Brighton’s latest and most exciting restaurant in the historic heart of the city. Kick off your shoes and relax over a cocktail in the stylishly-renovated lounge bar or enjoy a meal on the terrace overlooking the Pavilion Gardens. Great value lunch for  �6 and a child-friendly menu. Only open since May, the ha ha bar & grill – even the name makes you smile – is already a big hit on the Brighton restaurant scene thanks to its inspirational menu of fresh, exquisitely-prepared food served by attentive staff in chic surroundings. Charming manager, Reeshi Patel, will make sure you'll have a day to remember. 

The Curlew

Junction Road, Bodiam, East Sussex TN32 5UY

tel: 01580 861394

An arrow flight from Hastings and a stone skim from Bodiam Castle, The Curlew is the perfect place to eat after an informal end-of-the-holidays improvised history lesson.

This attractive, clapper-boarded, Hopperesque restaurant was once a coaching inn on the Hastings to London road, but has recently been given a modern British bistro makeover by Mark and Sara Colley, whose menu relies on ‘quality, locality, responsibility and seasonality’ prepared by renowned chef, Graham Garrett.  Excellent wine list and daily changing 2-course lunch menu: �16 and �7.50 for children under nine. Exceptional value.

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