Lunch@The Bell, West Overton (2)

We first visited The Bell in West Overton in 2016. We really enjoyed the food and so we are going back for a second time to meet Jem & Sassy for lunch. The Bell is run by Hannah & Andrew McNaughton. Hannah leads the front of house team while Andrew, who has cooked at Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor and at the Oxo Tower, leads the kitchen team.

I begin by revisiting the beer I had last time – Moles Best from the Moles Brewery in Melksham. It is a malty copper coloured bitter with a hint of floral hops. No one else at our table is drinking alcohol but, without the need for liquor, they are still all in good spirits.

Curried smoked haddock & prawn fishcakes served with lime pickle and coriander are brought to the table for Jem & Sassy. They have a crisp coating, are generously filled and taste fantastic. I have the duck liver parfait with onion confit and toast. Smooth, highly flavoured parfait. Rock has the warm potato pancake with hot smoked salmon, watercress and crème fraiche.  Well balanced and delicious. All good choices – what a great start!

Another beer but this time I’m going to try something new. Birdman is from the Flying Monk Brewery in Malmesbury. It is a refreshing full-bodied pale golden bitter – a nice contrast to the Moles Best. Jem & Sassy not only have the same starter but the same main course. It is some sort of gentle conspiracy to give me less to write about. Their pan fried fillet of sea bream comes with roasted cauliflower, chorizo, sautéed potatoes, almonds and tomato.

I have the slow braised venison with beetroot, mushrooms and sauté potato gnocchi. The venison arrives looking like a small haggis but it is absolutely superb its rich flavour is complemented by the beetroot and mushrooms. The light and delicate gnocchi is also very good. Rock enjoys a tasty local rabbit ragu with tagliatelle, peas and basil.

A good measure of how much we like the food at any place is whether we have dessert when we don’t really need to. Rock and I share the basil pannacotta with basil wine and fresh raspberries. An unusual and very nicely flavoured pannacotta that fully passed the ‘wobble’ test. Jem has the vanilla cheesecake with blueberry confit and Sassy the warm treacle tart with clotted cream. The desserts are every bit as good as the starters and the main courses.

The second visit to The Bell has been even better than the first – partly because we shared the experience with Jem & Sassy. A third visit is definitely on the cards for us and a second for Jem and Sassy!

Lunch@The Ibex Inn, Chaddleworth

Today I’m meeting Antonio at The Ibex Inn, Chaddleworth. The Ibex Inn is a country pub in a small, picturesque Berkshire village. I’ve read positive reports about their food and their chef, Kai Taylor, seems to have some interesting ideas. Antonio loves his food almost as much as I do – so this should be a great place to meet.

Antonio gets there before me and, as he is by himself, he orders a pint of Billy No Mates.  It is a very decent pale ale from Chaddleworth’s Indigenous microbrewery. When I arrive the sun is shining and so I order another beer from the Indigenous range – the Summer Solstice, even paler and refreshing on a summer’s day.

The menu consists of British pub classics with a modern twist and all the produce is sourced from within a 40 mile radius apart from the fish – which is delivered daily from Brixham. Antonio decides to try the Ibex steak burger with bacon, cheddar & fries. It is a very high quality burger, well presented with fabulous fries. He loves it.

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I want to be slightly more adventurous and ask for the curried crispy Brixham cod loin with fries and a Bombay mayonnaise. When it arrives the cod is covered in a beautiful crisp batter, with great fries and the Bombay mayo carries just the right amount of curry spices. Fantastic. Kai comes out of the kitchen to check we, and other diners, are enjoying the food. He talks to us about his approach and shows a real desire to please his customers.

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We have enjoyed our food so much that we are now tempted to try the desserts. I pick Kai’s bounty bar torte with textures of pineapple. It is artistically presented, the chocolate torte is rich, I’m pleased that the coconut element is not too pronounced and the mix of fresh pineapple, pineapple pearls and coulis are refreshing. But, overall, I don’t enjoy it quite as much as I enjoyed my main course. Antonio likes the sound of the caramel pudding & brownie sundae. When it arrives, he really likes the taste of it too.

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The Ibex Inn is a really good find. Friendly and excellent service and a clear desire to produce pub food that is better than most. We will definitely be back.

Lunch@The Dundas Arms, Kintbury

Today I’m catching up with Gary at The Dundas Arms. The Dundas Arms is a picturesque 18th century riverside pub in Kintbury, Berkshire. In the past the food here has been very good but neither Gary or myself have been here for a while, so…it will be interesting to see if the food is as good as we remember.

Gary has the grilled Cornish sardines to start with herb buttered toast and tomato & bacon jam. I have the scotch egg with date & apricot chutney. Gary really enjoys the sardines, while my scotch egg is not as exciting as some I’ve had recently but I love the chutney.

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The breast of free range chicken has Gary’s name on it and he also gets Wye valley asparagus, lemon crushed potatoes and a salsa verdi. I decide to be adventurous and try the pork belly, spring onion & herb potato cake served with tenderstem broccoli and a red wine sauce. Interesting and enjoyable.

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I can rarely resist a crumble and I don’t even attempt to resist today. The apple and raisin crumble is served with vanilla ice cream – I should have resisted, it is good but I really don’t have room for it. Gary, though, polishes off the sticky toffee pudding with honeycomb ice cream….without any difficulty at all.

Great to spend time with Gary and great to find that the food at the Dundas Arms was worth the trip!

Lunch@The Vine Tree, Norton

Today we are meeting Edda & Roots for lunch at The Vine Tree in Norton. The Vine Tree is a country pub situated close to the border between Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. We’ve been here many times before and the food is usually good. The early conversation centres around hi-fi as Roots & Edda are in the process of acquiring a decent source of music for their home. I think we can help – I have some stuff in our attic!

I have a pint of Rare Breed from the Butcombe Brewery and Roots has an Elmers from the Flying Monk Brewery. My Rare Breed is a refreshing golden ale while Roots’ Elmers is a very drinkable pale bitter. Edda amplifies her senses with a glass of viognier and Rock an elderflower pressé.

Roots has the crispy Port Isaac squid served on a wooden deck, Edda has a turntable of goat’s cheese with a fennel & radish salad and an orange & chervil dressing. I have the seasonal and digital (as in like fingers) tempura vegetables. All the starters go down well.

I move on to the seared fillet of sea bass with fennel, thyme new potatoes, roasted hazelnuts and a rhubarb sauce. My sea bass is cooked well and fine tuned with an interesting sour rhubarb sauce. Edda has the caramelised shallot & beetroot tart tatin with cauliflower purée, roasted sweet potato & butternut squash and tapes of balsamic syrup. Roots has the fish pie – today’s catch in a cream, onion, muscadet sauce, topped with sliced new potatoes and a savoury herb & cheddar crumb. He loves it.

Rock tries to avoid dishes with a high fat content and chooses the plaice goujons because they are described on the menu as lightly bread crumbed. But, when they arrive, it soon becomes clear that the plaice is in cartridges of thick batter and breadcrumbs and the goujons have been deep fried. Not good but we decide against using a loudspeaker to voice her concerns.

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Treacle & stem ginger tart

For dessert both couples share the treacle and stem ginger tart with vanilla ice cream before having coffee. The beer has been very good, the food has been pretty good except for the plaice goujons, and we have really enjoyed seeing Roots & Edda.

Now….I really must have a look in the attic!

Dinner@The Farmer’s Arms, Ulverston

Tonight we are meeting my good friend and former colleague, Louise, and her husband, Peter, for dinner at The Farmer’s Arms. The Farmer’s brands itself as a family run free house in the centre of the lively market town of Ulverston.

Louise, Rock and I all start with the crispy duck spring rolls with salad and hoisin sauce. The pastry wrapper is crispy and the sauce is good but the spring rolls have only had a brief introduction to the duck. They need to be filled with far more crispy duck to be a headline starter. Peter enjoys his crusty bread with olives, tomatoes & garlic hummus.

Peter and I are working our way through the variety of beers on tap. My personal favourite is the Atlantic Hop from the Westgate Brewery in Wakefield. I have a main dish with an unusual spin on Indian spiced lamb. It is served on a very long hanging skewer and it is full of good flavours. It comes with rice, a poppadum, mango chutney and curried tikka sauce. Peter has a tried and tested favourite – a traditional American cheese burger with bacon, jalapenos, pickles and barbecue sauce all served in a brioche bun.  Louise has the Cajun chicken – slices of chicken breast marinated in Cajun spice, served on a skewer and a widespread coverage of creamy Cajun sauce. Plus basmati rice and homemade chips. Rock, as usual, has fish. It is a pan-fried white fish served with sautéd potatoes and watercress but she cannot recall what type of fish it is. It is cooked well but overall the dish is a little too greasy for her.

Peter and I have not been given any form of embargo on drinking, so more beers have been drunk and more are ordered. Peter and Louise share an Eton Mess deocrated with a fresh strawberry and a chocolate straw set at an angle. Meanwhile I lobby Rock and persuade her to share an apple and rhubarb crumble with custard. And then more beer….

Evaluating our evening in the Farmers, I would say that the food was not bad at all. The beer, the service and the atmosphere were all very good. However, if there is one key message I want to broadcast, it is that the very best part of the evening was the company. It was simply fantastic to see Louise again and to meet Peter for the first time – we had a great laugh and a great time!

Lunch@The Ship Inn, Low Newton

A long walk from Beadnell across an extraordinarily beautiful Northumberland beach has brought us to The Ship Inn at Low Newton. We are again with our good friends Gino, Cosmo & LN and we are all in need of a beer and some lunch. As in all our visits to The Ship Inn, the place is packed and we are lucky to get a table.

The beer is very good here as they have their own brewery. Pints of Sea Wheat, Red Herring and Ship Hop Ale are poured and enjoyed. LN has a kipper with fresh brown bread & butter. Gino and Rock both have the kipper fish cakes with salad & a stottie. The excellent kippers and kipper fish cakes are locally supplied by Swallow fish of Seahouses. Cosmo has a beautiful homemade spiced vegetable soup. I have the lamb koftas with pitta, salad and mint raitha.

Some of us are hungry for more and I know they do a great apple crumble here. I head to the bar only to find that they have sold out! There is absolutely no apple crumble left and that is the only dessert on the menu. Oh well, another beer then…

Situated in the middle of miles and miles of beautiful coastline, The Ship Inn is a haven for much needed, good quality food and drink. In many ways it is an oasis for beach walkers – I’m so glad it isn’t a mirage!

Dinner@The Fox & Hounds, Carthorpe

The second stop on this culinary road trip is at The Fox & Hounds, Carthorpe. We have been told that the hospitality here is second to none and I started to understand why the moment we walked through the door. The landlord, Vincent, who was already engaged in a lively conversation with some of his regulars, greets us as though we are old friends.

I decide to revisit my past by having a pint of Theakston’s Peculier IPA. This was a favourite of mine when I was at University. Vincent starts to tell me that the Fox & Hounds’ latest new beer on tap is Timothy Taylor’s blonde, Knowle Spring and I should try it. He immediately pours me a generous taster glass. While the Old Peculier is very smooth, the Knowle Spring is full of zingy grapefruit notes. Very different beers, but both very good.

Rock has the pan fried fillet of sea trout with ginger, spring onions, side salad and coleslaw. The fish is beautifully cooked, with crispy skin, and the flavours of ginger and spring onion are well balanced. I have the guinea fowl with smoked bacon, stuffing and chips. A little dry but generally good. The main courses are far better than you get in most pubs but suffer slightly from the outdated idea that it’s fine to serve the same vegetables or salad with every dish on the menu. I’ve now moved on to the Knowle Spring and we prepare to share the pear and almond tart with vanilla custard.

Overall, decent quality food….but I would really go back anytime to enjoy the beer and the excellent hospitality.