Situated down a narrow cobbled lane, and sharing the access with the parish church, the Bells looks like the quintessential country pub. And, some 40 years back, when we last visited, that’s exactly what it was. Now it is much more of your dining pub. No, I tell a lie. Actually, it’s more your restaurant that happens to be in an old pub building that still retains a tiny bar area. Certainly a bar area too tiny for a game of darts.
I can’t recall the food from all those years ago but I’ll bet it wasn’t as good as what’s now on offer. For example, a smoked haddock fishcake was light, crispy and, thankfully, fishy. It sat on just wilted spinach, was topped with aubergine “caviar” and surrounded by a lemon butter sauce. Excellent contrasts of tastes and textures. Venison terrine was rich and gamey. The plate artfully decorated with pickled vegetables and a pea puree. Working well with it were two brioche rolls – light and with a hint of sweetness that contrasted nicely with the pickled items. Some thought had gone into this dish and I really liked its balance.
Salmon fillet was my main. Just cooked through but with a perfect crispness to the skin. Delicious. It sat in the bowl on top of spinach and a few halved new potatoes. The sauce was more light seafood broth than sauce but none the worse for that, the little nuggets of cockles and chopped razor clams adding another flavour layer.
My wife went for the pub classic of a steak sandwich, in which the brioche made another appearance. This was another appealing looking plate – the sandwich, a bowl of chips, a handful of salad, a mini Kilner jar of béarnaise. What’s not to like? Well, truth be told, the steak was a bit chewier than you’d have liked but was cooked bang-on at medium rare.
We passed on desserts but coffee was decent. Service had been attentive, even though they were under some pressure from a large “office Christmas lunch” party.
Must remember not to leave it another 40 years before visiting again.