The Bell at Ramsbury
I’m off to cheer myself up with a good ole stuff up in the oh-so-delightful village of Ramsbury.
It’s Tuesday, it’s raining again and I’m off to cheer myself up with a good ole stuff up in the oh-so-delightful village of Ramsbury. A mere stiletto’s throw from Marlborough, this picture-perfect spot hovers over the River Kennet (most of which seems to be washing down the high street today), and is the ideal place, when it’s not flooded, for a family walk. The Bell is a 300 year old former coaching inn, voted Wiltshire Life pub and restaurant of the year, sitting in the heart of Wiltshire’s Best Kept Large Village, having won…yada, yada, yada. Yes, we all love an award but let’s get down to the important stuff and what we’re really here for. The food.
The Bell is part of the Ramsbury Estate and has its own brewery, distillery and smokehouse. Which means that the beer is good (I’m told, I’ll stick to the Picpoul if you’re buying), they press their own oils and grow their own veg. There are nine bedrooms to stumble up to after a large night, all clean and neat, not spectacular but then you’re not paying spectacular prices. Downstairs, the décor is light and bright (well, it would be if it wasn’t raining) – forget wonky corners and rustic brick, this is more Farrow and Ball meets genteel Scottish plaid. Stylish possibly, civilised definitely, perhaps a tad formal for me but you can’t beat The Bell’s friendly welcome. The staff were on top form, there is a cosy nook with a mascara-melting fireplace and they’ve played a blinder installing a village café at the back of the pub serving tea and cake which was packed at 3pm during the afternoon exodus from the local primary school.
The Bell is a one-stop-shop for Ramsbury Estate produce (the aforementioned Ramsbury beers, kitchen garden fruit and veg, and seasonal game) cooked up under the watchful eye of head chef Jonas Lodge, who believes in preparing ingredients for his menu in-house, including smoking bacon from locally reared pork and salmon in beech wood, and curing trout in beetroot and Ramsbury Estate vodka (wey hey! to that, I say). Anyone who champions local, seasonal ingredients is pretty cool in my book.
The menu is small (I’ve decided menus have to be small to be Muddy. Too much choice equals unnecessary stress, and who needs that over a relaxing lunch?) and after a brief discussion over whether we could face plumped pig’s head to start with we went for a shared starter of Cornish baked camembert, The Bell’s ‘IPA’ chutney & crusty bread. It was yummy but I don’t understand why I still have to keep reminding myself to lay off the bread early in the meal if I want to make it through to pud.
For main I plumped for the pie (God, I love a pie), this one being of the beef and mushroom variety, with crushed potatoes (bright purple, slightly off-putting at first but delicious once you’ve jumped in) and a rich gravy, with sprouting broccoli and almonds as a side.
Mum chose the brill with various bits including salsify, horn of plenty, stained glass parsley and an apple and sorrel sauce. Phew. After a lengthy discussion on the difference between salsify, samphire and horn of plenty (no, I’m not going to tell you, it’s too dull. But they are different. Apparently) we declared the food excellent. The Bell gives a nod to fine dining and then pulls it back with its reasonable prices and more humble offerings of battered haddock and beef burgers. Delicious burnished pies, hunks of charred meat, juicy sausages and, in season, local game. You get the picture.
Although by now we are both sporting cheese babies and about to go into carb shock, obviously we’ve got to go for the rhubarb and pear crumble with lavender and honey ice cream. Well shoot me down, this has got to be one of the best puddings I have ever tasted. Delicious melt in your mouth crumble, subtle lavender, not too filling…shall I go on?
The Bell is for the well-heeled (a couple of older gents next to us talking gun dogs and how to remove shot from pheasants) as well as the Carrozina pram brigade (that’ll be the Bugaboo in our day), and is a great country pub before a well-earned walk. We did manage a short one – well, had to find a shop to buy snacks for the kids before pick-up – to Ramsbury Meadow Nature reserve and a short hop along the boardwalk over butterfly infested reeds (a bit like a miniature Everglades, only without the crocs). And I shall definitely be back to try more homegrown Ramsbury produce in their special food weeks – Sandwich Week (8-14 May), Great British Fish ‘n Chip Supper on 19th May, Strawberry Week (2-8 June), British Food Fortnight (23 Sep to 8 Oct), Sausage Week (30 Oct to 5 Nov) and Curry Week (9 to 15 Oct).
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: A pint of Gold gleam in the hop-adorned bar before a trek over the glorious Marlborough Downs. Or, let’s be realistic, a good value stuff up before rolling ourselves over to the fireplace and chugging down another glass of the good stuff. It’s dog friendly, baby friendly, a working pub with upmarket grub where locals mingle with ruddy-cheeked tourists.
Not for: Those searching for something truly unique or quirky. It does what it says on the tin, in a soothing, substantial way. Not for grumps – this place is seriously friendly!
££: Bang on mid-range with starters between £7 and £9 and most mains under £20. Puddings from £6. Sunday roasts £19.50 for 2 courses or £24.50 for 3.
The Bell, The Square, High Street, Ramsbury, Wiltshire SN8 2PE. Tel: 01672 520230. thebellramsbury.com. Open Monday-Saturday 12pm to 11pm, Sunday 12pm-10pm.
Like this? Check out my review of The Sign of the Angel, Lacock