Let's do lunch!
PUBLISHED: 15:43 09 November 2007 | UPDATED: 14:54 20 February 2013
In the first of our exciting new series, the former Racing Channel presenter and West Berkshire resident Miriam Francome eats out at The Bell at Ramsbury, near Marlborough...
Who did you take?
Sarah Reeves, who works for the British Horseracing Authority. Sarah is one of my oldest and dearest friends. We met 30 odd years ago in kindergarten of course! Happily we live in the same village and share a passion for dogs, friends, walking eating and wine, not necessarily in that order.
The Bell has huge appeal and if you were driving through Ramsbury you'd want to stop. Inside, it's like walking into a familiar sitting room. Immediately in front of you are three enormous sofas that beg your attention, enthusiastically, like old friends.
Where did you sit?
We chose to sit in the bar, which is light looking with a great atmosphere. It has amazing stained glass windows and the décor is very Farrow & Ball-ish.
Tell us about the menu?
It's very inviting, and whatever your mood it was covered! Chef Paul Kinsey changes the menu regularly and keeps it seasonal - full marks there.
What did you both choose?
Sass and I decided to share everything and settled on chilli salt Cornish squid and a crab and salmon fish cake, which came with Chinese cabbage and a sweet chilli sauce. For readers' benefit and not, you understand, out of greed, we also tried a homemade wild boar and plum sausage which, in fact, was made in Lambourn by the Butcher's Dog Sausage Co owned by 'Gerry the Policeman' - but he's another story. These delicacies were to be followed by a whole Brixham crab with broad beans for Sass and for me an 'aged' beef burger and hand-cut chips. Thank goodness we had planned to walk our car full of doggies, by the river later! Talking of which, The Bell has a relaxed attitude to dogs, in the bar and to prove it there was a full water bowl in place for our furry friends.
What did you drink?
Lots! Unlike London ladies who lunch and sip mineral water, us country girls are made of sterner stuff. It's said that 'an apple without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze' and I say that 'lunch without wine is sad'. Jeremy Parke, The Bell's owner knows about wine and interestingly changes the theme of 'house' wines each month. Our visit coincided with an Iberian experience. We let the 'Patron' guide us and started with a couple of glasses of fabulous Vina Garedo Viura Sauvingnon Blanc 2005 from the Rudea region in Spain. Very affordable at £14.25 a bottle, there was also a red at £12.50, however Jeremy skilfully pointed us towards a chilled Fleurie from the wine list. It was a winner for both of us.
How did you rate your starters and main courses?
I would have liked more chilli on the squid but Sass loved it and in reverse, she wasn't mad about the fish cake and although I felt it was a wee bit heavy on potato, it was yummy. The sausage was good, without being exciting. We both gaped when the huge crab arrived on a long piece of slate, flanked on one side by a mound of broad beans (popped out of their skins) on the one side and Wasabi mayonnaise on the other.
I was very jealous, until my burger arrived, compliments of the charming Emily. Now everyone knows that I am the world's expert when it comes to burgers and Paul has got it right. No mince in his kitchen, but perfectly cooked beef done to perfection. I'm a very happy bunny.
Were you tempted by the desserts?
We didn't even glance at the puds. (Editor's note: How could they resist hot passion fruit and banana soufflé, vanilla panacotta or apple and blackberry crumble?)
What was the service like throughout the meal?
On the day we were there, Emily, who is Paul's girlfriend was front of house. She couldn't have been nicer, but if you do go during term time you'll miss her as she is at uni. Chef Paul is only 23, so it's a young kitchen, with a great future.
Would you recommend it to your friends?
As we were heading for the river, Sass said: "What a shame I'm working tomorrow and you are off to Greece, we could have come back again for lunch."
Would I recommend The Bell to my friends?
Yes, and please take me?