The Urban Guide to the Countryside
Edition

Lovely local pub — and great British dining

29 Oct 2016

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I’m sorry to say that I’ve driven past The Bell in Stoke Mandeville loads of time over the years — and it was only recently that I actually stopped in and checked it out.  Safe to say, I’m definitely going to be stopping there again.

Dhrooti, from Team Muddy Herts, and I had a *ahem* working lunch there recently, and even though we said we’d be just having something small… well, one look at the menu put a stop to that nonsense.

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The Bell has a great menu, reflecting its love of all things British — think modern, seasonal British cooking — and the background of its owner, James, explains that very neatly.  He’s arrived at The Bell via places like Marlow’s Hand and Flowers, and has a serious heritage in the food business.  He also owns The Russell Arms at Butlers Cross — just the other side of Wendover in Bucks — which is also a brilliant choice for lunch.

It’s a proper, friendly pub — warm welcome, but not over the top, and a menu that allows all sorts of space for finding exactly what you want.  We asked James what asking for “something simple,” as invited to by the menu, might produce, and he said that they’re more concerned about making sure people have what they want, rather than being all precious about their menu.  None of this ‘no substitutions’ business here.

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The menu, though, has plenty of choice to start with.  There are “while you’re waiting” nibbles, a couple of piled-high sharing platters, as well as starters, mains and sides that cover a whole range of tastes.  There’s warm and comforting — Bubble and Squeak with a Poached Egg and Hollandaise (think, bubble and squeak benedict!) — as well as light and refreshing — Crab, Prawn and Crayfish with Baby Gem Salad.  And that’s just the starters.

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Main courses, you’re looking at things like pan-fried venison haunch steak with purple potatoes and beetroot, crispy-skinned sea bass fillet  with braised veg (which Dhrooti had and assured me was delicious), and the very tasty roast sweet potato, butternut squash, marrow and coconut curry which I chose and which was amazing.

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There’s a lovely feel to The Bell that’s sort of hard to put your finger on exactly what it is.  Dhrooti and I um’d and ah’d about how to describe it — and came up with old-fashioned and cosy.  But don’t think old-fashioned means stuffy or boring.  It means comfy and relaxed — the sort of place you could sit for hours, chatting, reading the paper, eating, relaxing.  You know, the sort of place where you suddenly realise that you’ve been there all afternoon — but you don’t mind one bit.

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Puddings were just as good.  Dhrooti went for a warm and cosy Mixed Berry Bakewell Tart — and the bit I nicked while she wasn’t looking was mouthwateringly lovely.  I came over all sophisticated and ordered Champagne sorbet — and was delighted to see it was three great big scoops in a big bowl, not one tiny one in a glass.  We hadn’t realised that our coffees would come with a little brownie, mind you, but we didn’t let that stop us…

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The Muddy Verdict

Great for: relaxed dining — they serve food all day so no rushing to get you in or out — and a great menu.  They seemed very happy to have children there, and there’s enough variety and flexibility on the menu that you’ll keep everyone happy.  I’ll be back, for sure, and I’ll be taking Mr C and the mudlings with me.

Not so great for: well, it’s not necessarily a fancy, get-dressed-up-to-eat-there sort of a pub — although I’m sure they’d be delighted if you did! — but that’s sort of part of the charm.  It’s real, it’s grounded, and it’s flippin’ good.

bellstokemandeville.co.uk

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside -
Hertfordshire Edition