Review: The Bell at Ramsbury
"The most lavish choice to go for is the rolled chicken breast"
Of all the countless dining pubs, ‘modern British’ menus and local produce-focused chefs that work in our glorious area of the country, there are a handful that go above and beyond. For some, a few local craft beers and a decent terrine just isn’t enough. Some go the extra mile. Some have tangible passion, which you can feel in the atmosphere and taste on the plate. Some are like The Bell at Ramsbury.
Very few of them actually have something unique. Sure, a nice pub is a nice pub and that’s a beautiful thing in itself, but it’s a well-trodden formula, and it’s often difficult to write these reviews about decent eateries without running sorely low on adjectives. For this one, however, I have no such problems. I could go on for ages. Where to start? Probably by mentioning the Ramsbury Estate. Vodka, gin, smoked fish, game, oils and more come to The Bell direct from their own source, just around the corner, and some of the products are remarkable – their ‘Belapur’ IPA rivals any of the more well-known craft pale ale alternatives, and the hot smoked salmon and vodka-cured trout are exceptional.
You can feel the love and the pride put into this place, and it doesn’t stop at the produce. Head chef Jonas Lodge has a hair-trigger palate, deft skill in delicately combining ingredients, and a real eye for a pretty dish – from more delicate flavours through to rich game. Two starters exemplify his talent in particular: there is Cornish crab, spun with spiky pickled cucumbers, served between two paper-thin rounds of white radish and topped with Ossetra caviar. It’s an incredibly simple dish, made extraordinary with thoughtful presentation and a perfect balance of flavour. The other is pigeon – stained deep red by tender beetroot and laid on pickled red cabbage, it’s one of the most visually striking dishes on the menu, with earthy and sharp flavours keeping each other in check.
Onto the mains and the levels reach further still. The most lavish choice to go for is the rolled chicken breast, wrapped in heavily smoked bacon and topped with everyone’s favourite two ingredients: foie gras and black truffle, the former seared to a perfect bounce and the latter so flat and wide that the full tuber must have been the size of my fist. There is duck breast, tender and yielding to the knife, with unapologetically charred cabbage and celeriac purée so moreish it’s almost unfair. There are mussels, there are mushrooms on toast and there is whole grilled plaice. This is ludicrously confident cooking, never looking to reinvent the wheel but rather pushing each dish that little bit further than you expect, with absolutely knock-out flavours at every turn. It is hard to praise Jonas Lodge and his team enough.
Perhaps it’s the pure brilliance of the food, perhaps it’s the whole “everything in house” philosophy, perhaps it’s the brimming enthusiasm of the staff or perhaps it’s the rooms – again, no design marvel but so welcoming and luxurious that going home feels like a kick in the teeth – but there’s something different about The Bell. The people of Ramsbury are blessed to have this place on their doorstep, and I implore you to go and try it for yourself. Phenomenal.
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