When you’ve got two family birthdays and Mother’s Day in the same month – and the family members you want to celebrate with are on the other side of the country – nothing makes more sense than meeting in the middle. During the height of COVID-19, when you could only meet with other households in outdoor settings and not at their own homes, we used Henley-on-Thames as a middle ground – and we did the same again this March to make the travel aspect fairer for all involved.
With one of our party a pescatarian, another fairly strict about healthy eating, one five-year-old and the remaining two of us omnivores a pub seemed like a sensible choice – and The Angel on the Bridge seemed to fit the bill in every respect. Located on Thameside, right by the water and on the corner of the bridge over the A4130, it’s a pub that has the proud claim to fame of being the only one in Henley-on-Thames to stand on the river.
As you’d expect from a Grade II building that dates back to 1728, The Angel on the Bridge is a higgledy-piggledy jumble of different drinking and dining areas, its attractive nature marred only by the damp floor and tired decor of the one female toilet cubicle. The front and back bars have a cosy, relaxed feel, while the River Room seats up to 40 and is more set up for dining, plus can be hired out for special occasions. If the weather’s decent there’s also a terraced area beside the river where you can take in the views.
Being the Saturday before Mother’s Day, the only table we could book was right in the window by the front bar – but with views right across the water and being seated beside the bar to make it easy to ask for more drinks when needed, we weren’t complaining.
The five-year-old wasn’t complaining either: the barman (whose service, humour and friendliness were incredible throughout our visit) soon made him aware of the large jar of marshmallows sitting on the bar and gave him one on a skewer to toast over the open fire. With the promise of another at the end of our meal, it’s not that surprising that he was polite, friendly and well-behaved for the whole of our visit!
Behind the bar you’ll find plenty of spirits, wines, bottled beverages and soft drinks, as well as lagers (Moretti, Amstel, San Miguel, Pilsner Urquell), cider (Stowford Press), Guinness and a selection of Brakspear beers on draught. Food-wise, as well as the specials that are chalked up on boards dotted around the pub, there’s both a winter and a summer menu with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options all clearly marked. What surprised me was that while The Angel on the Bridge prides itself on being child-friendly, there are no dedicated kids’ menus – you can, however, order smaller versions of certain dishes on the menu.
Instead, he had a gourmet spread: a bite of this and a nibble of that from all of the plates around the table. To his left it was the Brakspear beer battered haddock and chips with peas and tartare sauce (£14.50) – a dish impressively described by the person who ordered it as “up there with the best fish and chips I can remember eating”. “So fresh I could imagine eating it by the seaside” was how he described it: the batter light, crispy and non-greasy; the fish coming apart easily in large chunks, the steak-cut chips perfectly crisp and fluffy.
Having seen cheesy chips on the menu (£5.50) I couldn’t resist…so ordered them alongside a starter-sized portion of the smoked haddock and mozzarella fishcakes (£7). I won’t deny that I thought the fishcake looked a little *too* perfectly formed when it arrived – like something you might find sold in bulk in the freezers at a budget supermarket, perhaps – but my fears were unfounded. Inside those crispy golden breadcrumbs was a good amount of smoky fish and enough mozzarella to give that delightful stringy effect when cut apart. The salad was plentiful (and with more than just the leaves that the menu had promised), and while a nice touch, the lemon wedge simply wasn’t needed. There was no sign of the promised sweet chilli sauce but again, I didn’t complain as the flavours were delicious enough without it.
The cheesy chips? Perfect. More of those steak-cut chips and, as I think you’ll agree from the photo, a decent amount of cheese that had been melted perfectly to cover the entire contents of the dish.
The child may have had to share the main courses but he did get his own dessert. We were all a little too full for the Belgian chocolate truffle, sticky toffee pudding and bread and butter pudding from The Angel on the Bridge winter desserts menu, but couldn’t resist the locally-made Gelato Henley. As well as having their own shop on Duke Street in Henley-on-Thames, Gelato Henley also supplies a number of restaurants and pubs in the area with gelato made daily to their own recipes. They’ve got a vast number of flavours on offer, seven of which were available here priced at £2.40 per scoop. We can now confirm that the honeycomb, with its swirls of local honey and plenty of crunchy honeycomb, and the rum & raisin, which was generously boozy, were both fantastic.
With rugby on the TV and plenty of lunch bookings arriving after us, the pub went from being quiet and relaxed when we first got there to having a lovely buzzy vibe when we left. Despite having a huge number of additional customers to tend to, though, our barman hadn’t forgotten the promise of an additional marshmallow for the child to toast, and he trotted off happily to do so before we headed off for a post-prandial walk.
While The Angel on the Bridge hadn’t initially been our first choice of venue (the place we’d originally chosen was fully booked), we’re glad it’s where we ended up. With great food, incredible service and a beautiful historic waterside setting, we couldn’t have asked for a better celebratory experience.