The Bell chimes just the right chord
The picturesque Cliff village of Coleby is home to one of the county’s most acclaimed pub restaurants. Caroline Bingham visited and found chef/patron Paul Vidic is still at the top of his game.
Paul knows a thing or two about cooking but also about being a warm host and accessible to his clientele – he has made firm friends with many of them. We visited on a Wednesday evening and Paul made sure to welcome us, take our drinks order and make his own menu recommendations before heading back to the kitchen.
Yes, some people do come to The Bell for a drink only but primarily this is a restaurant which is well worth the journey if you live a distance from the city. We thought we had arrived in good time but The Bell’s Early Bird, set two or three course menu, served on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays is always popular so the dining area was already a third full.
Paul is a classically trained chef whose career has taken him from leading London restaurants to other reputed venues and ultimately his own establishments in the county. Chefs have to be masters of reinvention, keeping ahead of trends, tastes and understand their very competitive marketplace. The Bell has just had a fresh colour scheme externally – quite Provençal – but perfectly in keeping with the village setting. We decided to enjoy our drinks on the decking outside, catching some last evening sun and admiring the beautifully arranged planting. Inside the décor is smart yet relaxed, keeping the county inn feel but with accents of opulence to good effect.
Food at The Bell is of the highest quality but served with friendly efficiency rather than the pomp which might have been de rigueur a few years ago. “Outstanding food served in comfort,” is how Paul describes his approach and I cannot disagree with that.
So to the menu. There is a wide choice with difficult decisions to be made from the eight starters, ten mains and ten options for dessert. We agreed to share our starters which coincidentally were both cheese based. Paul had recommended the Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese served with wine poached pear, roasted hazelnut and chicory and our second starter was Burrata cheese served with black fig and air dried ham salad with basil, virgin olive oil and aged balsamic. Both of these were harmonious blends of textures and flavours. Light and so appetising, they were ideal choices to begin our meal. The Fourme d’Ambert was perfectly ripe and a subtle revelation. It is a cheese I will be trying to find again. We were served some delicious homemade bread to accompany these dishes.
Other options included a double baked Lincolnshire Poacher Cheese soufflé, a cream of watercress and garden pea soup or a baked seafood thermidor. Difficult choices, as I said, and the main course dishes left us equally pondering.
We chose dishes with more contrast across the menu this time. I went for a panache of black bass, salmon and halibut filet with asparagus, Boston new potatoes and chive beurre blanc. My companion chose sweet potato and butternut squash Thai curry with coconut milk, chillies and fresh coriander served with sticky jasmine rice. Paul persuaded us that as well as the fresh buttered vegetables served with our dishes we also must have a portion of freshly made chunky chips. I have to admit they were very good. I love halibut and all the fish in my dish was so fresh and delicate. The chive beurre blanc was a perfectly executed sauce which absolutely tied the dish together. The curry was rich with flavour, not too overpoweringly hot but zinged with the fresh ingredients. There were plenty of choices for carnivores too with loin of lamb, a sirloin steak, duck breast or breast of corn fed chicken on the menu.
We did have puddings too. Mine was lemon sorbet with a shot of lemoncello and crushed meringue and a lemon shortbread biscuit. Our other choice was glazed white chocolate and strawberry crème brûlée served with a shortbread biscuit. Both perfect finales to our meal.
We had been chatting throughout the evening but a moment for table watching is always needed. Other guests included groups who were obviously regular visitors and a few ‘date night’ couples.
The Bell at Coleby also hosts special themed dinners throughout the year and with autumn and Christmas menus now available, Paul and his team are busy taking bookings for the festive season. The Bell is especially popular as a venue in which to celebrate Christmas with business colleagues as well as family and friends.
Look on the website for more details of these seasonal menus.