The Five Bells, Bassingham
Caroline Bingham visited a country pub which is a perfect retreat on a winter’s day.
I am not sure who holds the title for the longest period as the licensee of a pub in the county, but in modern times Adrian Govier must be a strong contender, having been the owner and landlord of The Five Bells, Bassingham for twenty-eight years. He has certainly beaten any other previous landlord of the pub and has the records to prove it.
The original parts of the building date from 1815 and the frontage has classic Georgian windows and symmetry. Over the years Adrian, with the help of his wife, Di, and son, Dixie, has extended and renovated the pub. Using reclaimed and period materials the interior has been modelled as a classic English country pub. There are log fires burning in the grates and oak beams garlanded with hops. The warning to ‘Duck or grouse’ was nailed to a particularly low beam when we sat down at our table alongside the fireplace in the front bar area. Curiosities fill every nook and cranny; so many it is hard to take them all in. It made me thankful that I am not the person who has to dust. Winston Churchill watched from a portrait on the wall as we ate, below which were lined many wine bottles. I don’t think Winston was responsible for emptying those particular ones – but how very appropriate. A taxidermy fox, complete with pince-nez, keeps guard at the entrance to the restaurant area; the original well, from which landlords of old drew spring water for brewing the beer, has been retained as a feature as the pub has been extended and built around it. This is a pub which does not shun dogs, which makes it an ideal bolt hole after a country walk.
I visited on a Friday evening with a friend and we settled at our table with a drink while we looked through the menu. There was a choice of eleven starters; a main course section which included game, chicken, beef and fish options; a ‘Pub Favourites’ selection which included sausage and mash, fish pie and steak and ale pie among others; a vegetarian selection and finally an extensive grill section with nine options of cut and combinations which would suit just about every red meat fan. Unless specified, each main course came with a choice of one of three types of potato – chipped, mashed or dauphinoise – and a fresh vegetable selection.
For starters we chose goat’s cheese and onion marmalade filo tart, with mixed salad leaves and the king prawns in filo pastry, with mixed leaves and a sweet chilli sauce. We thought that the tart could have been warmer, but the cheese was melted and onion marmalade perfectly complements goat’s cheese. My tiger prawns were piping hot and crisp to the bite. Other choices included a home-made soup of the day, smoked duck breast salad, haggis and neeps, liver pâté, moules marinier and a tapas selection.
For the main course I opted for fillet beef stroganoff with onions, mushrooms, paprika and garlic flamed in brandy, finished with sour cream and parsley. To accompany it I had rice with peas and a selection of fresh vegetables. The meat was very tender and the sauce creamy, yet it had a kick. My friend chose the mixed grill of rump steak, gammon, Lincolnshire sausage, pork steak, black pudding, fried egg, mushrooms, onion rings and peas with a salad garnish and chipped potatoes. It was a very substantial plateful which proved impossible to finish.
After our main courses Adrian and Di came to sit and talk to us and showed us just a few of the many old documents Adrian has, which relate to the history of The Five Bells. Written in a classic quill script, these parchment documents are in fantastic condition and are worthy of careful transcription, to decifer the terms of indenture and ownership of the pub. Copies of some of them would make interesting artefacts for visitors to view, if space could be found on any of the walls. It is a job Adrian is going to tackle one day.
We decided to share a dessert and we opted for the crème brûlée with shortbread – a smooth, creamy custard with two delicious, heart-shaped biscuits. There was also strawberry cheesecake, double chocolate panna cotta, apple and mixed berry crumble, a trio of ice creams, English cheeseboard, warm chocolate fudge cake or a vanilla ice cream sundae. I rounded off my meal with a cappuccino coffee.
It is hard these days to find a quintessentially English pub. The Goviers have put their own unique stamp on the Five Bells and it certainly ticks all the boxes as a place to take any visitor to the county who has never experienced an English hostelry before.
My recommendation would be to have a good winter’s day walk before you visit and then settle down in front of one of the fires and enjoy a hearty lunch or dinner. It will take more than the stares of Winston or Fantastic Mr Fox to drive you home in a hurry.