Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Bell at Old Sodbury

WikiLeaks has allegedly exposed critical infrastructure in Britain that is essential to the US. As soon as I heard that one was a satellite station in the Southwest and another was the terminus for transatlantic cables I said to Hayley: “Goonhilly Down and Porth Kernow.” Not exactly secret information if I know about them. Goonhilly isn’t even operational anymore – check for yourself.

Other ‘assets’ are BAE factories, which are identified on BAE’s website and have big signs outside saying BAE. Something about all this inter-government chasing of Julian Assange stinks.

I haven’t done a restaurant review of late, so I thought I’d regale you of The Bell at Old Sodbury, which is literally just up the road and where we went for dinner one evening last week.

The Bell has recently changed hands – again. It was one of those pubs that time forgot, as well as decorative taste, limping along and surviving only by the skin of its teeth – and sometimes not even surviving. Some say the place is cursed – The Curse of The Bell.

A couple of years ago it was taken over by a Greek chap and his wife who gave it a lick of paint and converted it into a pub cum Greek restaurant – not a marriage that comes immediately to mind. I referred to the couple as Joan and Vangelis…... Jon and Vangelis…… get it? Oh never mind. They finally gave up on the place earlier this year.

After standing derelict for a while it was then taken over in late summer by the licensee of both the Squire in Chipping Sodbury and The Swan at Nibley (the latter having been reviewed by me previously), becoming part of a burgeoning pub empire.

Rather than just tarting the place up a bit (as previous licensees have done), it was given a major and lengthy structural make-over – all for the better, it being a vast improvement on the original. Décor is contemporary, with period architectural features having been retained – like the beautiful leaded sash windows and oak parquet flooring. Lots of deep, Georgian red, light grey and wood.

The place has a Facebook Page, as well as its own website.

We walked in relatively early and took a seat by the open wood fire, being presented with a bowl of complimentary marshmallows and skewers. Now I have never had toasted marshmallows before, imagining them to be somewhat flaccid and hideous confections best left to Americans and children. I was delightfully surprised when my 12 year-old No.1 son presented me with beautifully crunchy caramelised delicacies on a stick. Couldn’t get enough of them – nor could he.

There was a good selection of wines on offer, as well as Hay’s favourite beers from Bath Ales, which in itself endears the place to her. The Malbec is to die for, however I was disappointed by the Shiraz, which is somewhat insipid. Hay was not overly impressed with a glass of white she ordered and joined me in my red following a half of Bath Ales’ Gem.

My only complaint about the lounge room is that it sports the ubiquitous, large, flat-screen TV with silent Sky football news showing. I hate these devices as the eye is drawn to them and they interfere with convivial conversation. I understand it is on trial – I hope it’s found guilty and dragged off to the dungeons.

The open log fire was smouldering by this time as the wood being used was obviously damp. Having a wood burner as our prime heat source in the caravan, we are intimately familiar with the problems of burning wood that has not had time to season or been kiln dried. Having opened only 3 weeks ago, damp wood is something that possibly couldn’t be avoided – but should. One customer had a go at trying to get the fire going again, but failed. Sadly none of the staff seemed interested in tending the fire – which is actually a key focal point - being more interested in congregating at the bar and chatting.

The general manager who the licensee has installed looks suspiciously like Al Murray - and a bit scary.

On being seated in the dining area, which has a charming and eclectic mix of differing table and chair styles, one of the staff ran around the tables and lit all the candles – an attention to detail lacking in many restaurants. The menu is limited, but able to satisfy most tastes and seemed at first glance identical to that at The Swan at Nibley.

My son inspected the specials board and rubbed the e from the word ‘tomatoe’. He didn’t have any chalk and thus couldn’t correct the grammatical mistake in ‘a orange’. He's incorrigible and a chip off the old block!

When the waitress came to take our order I enquired as to the nature of the soup-of-the-day. Sadly she had to go back to the kitchen to find out. Hay and I exchanged glances – on coming on duty, waitresses should be fully aware of what is on offer without having to shuttle to and fro between the customer and the kitchen. It’s called professionalism. The soup was not to my taste, so I mischievously enquired as to what the risotto-of-the-day was. Predictably, the girl again traipsed back to the kitchen to find out.

Hay chose a salmon steak while I selected breast of duck. I had chosen the same dish at The Swan at Nibley, where it suffered from being far too much in terms of portion size and tough as old boots. The first piece of breast I tackled was indeed overcooked and I had to request a steak knife in order to cut it. The second breast displayed a healthy pinkness and was cooked to perfection – which is more than could be said for the sauté potatoes, which were still half raw.

The duck was accompanied by what was called a hedgerow jus. Basically it was warmed, crushed blackberries and currants and was far too acidic – added to which I kept crunching on blackberry seeds, which was not at all pleasant. A jus should include the cooking juices, but I couldn’t detect any duck juices in this concoction at all – it was more like something you’d pour over ice cream.

Had the duck been presented ready-sliced, half the amount would have been more than enough to satisfy me (as well as enabling the chef to see whether it is overcooked or not). The vegetables came on a side plate – which always seems an unnecessary frippery to me – and were just as I like them; still retaining a slight crunch.

Hay pronounced the salmon ‘disappointing’, with the sauté potatoes having the same rawness as mine.

Couldn’t fault the puddings – they were presented on a plate from which one makes a selection. A nice touch that enables you to see what you’re about to order.

Toward the end we asked for two coffees – unfortunately they never arrived.

The number of customers increased steadily during the evening and it was good to see the place bustling in these times of economic belt-tightening.

Our meal, comprising two main courses, two puddings and several assorted drinks (including a bottle of Shiraz) came to just over £50, which was reasonable. Given the place has only just opened and the staff are still finding their feet, I have no doubt that any teething problems with the food will be sorted out.

I hope the place survives and prospers and that The Curse of the Bell has finally been lifted. My only comment from a marketing perspective is that, not having changed its name, it may suffer from adverse old and out-of-date reviews in the pub / restaurant review sites.

20 Feb 2011 - Update

Called in for lunch. Unfortunately the General Manager couldn't find us a table; however, the Assistant General Manager managed to find us one with no trouble.

I am pleased to report that things have improved overall. Did have one solid roast potato, but given the price of the Sunday Lunch (£8.95), it was very good.

Was upset to see a few of the girls and the General Manager scraping the empty plates at the customers' tables, but the Assistant GM had the right idea and did it away from the table.

The Assitant GM really knows his stuff and impressed us both with his professionalism and commitment to customer service. I can see him going far in the business and I hope it won't be long before he's running his own place.

Shared starter (duck liver pate), 2 Sunday roasts, shared dessert (deliocious crumble), 2 coffees and various assorted drinks came to £50 including the tip. Very reasonable.

I can recommend the Aspall's cider. Very light colour and 5.5%. Far superior to the Stowford Press, which tastes much like the heavily processed stuff in supermarkets. Still think Pheasant Plucker cider is the bee's knees in cider though, but unfortunately the Bell doesn't do it and you''d need to go to the Neeld Arms in Grittleton.

18th March Update

Had dinner here again this evening. Lamb rump - perfect; slow roast belly pork - hideous. Flacid, jelly-like and riddled with soft, floppy fat - lacking any crispness whatsoever. As far as I'm concerned, belly pork should be crisp on top (like crackling) and the fat layers inside should be well rendered down so as to be almost gone.

Hay thought it was just a bad choice on my part, but based on the belly pork at the Black Rock in St Ives and the Live & Let Live in Frampton Cotterel, I suspect not (Hay is English, after all, and doesn't complain when something is not right). It was more like boiled pork belly, although the accompanying roast veggies and sauce were delicious.

Hay and I swapped main courses as I couldn't face eating the pork.

Desserts brilliant, as always.

Was not impressed with the sticky table, despite me asking for it to be wiped again. Wiping with a beer-soaked rag is not recommended, no matter what spray is used.

Again, a bit hit and miss, but the specials board is increasing in variety.

15th April Update

Have to say it's getting better with time. Still the odd niggle (this time I was asked whether Disarono is an Amaretto), but on the whole a fine place and a vast improvement on the original - in fact there's no comparison.

The Dog still can't be beaten on price, but it's usual pub fare there and thus the comparison is not apples with apples.

For an inexpensive evening with good food, but nothing special, then it's The Dog.

For something a tad more special, say a birthday or anniversary, then I'd recommend The Bell.

7th May 2011 Update

Visited with the whole family to celebrate getting a new job.

Food, excellent all round. Duck cooked to perfection and the portion size ideal.

Service, much improved - the staff now volunteer the soup of the day without having to go to the kitchen and ask.

Only one slight niggle remaining - coffee comes with those hideous little tubs of UHT milk and sachets of sugar. I would much prefer to have a jug of hot milk and cubed sugar, but I suppose the wastage needs to be considered as part of the overall cost. The manager assured me this would be considered.

Highly recommended and the best restaurant within say 5 miles. The only better place locally is the Live & Let Live, a Bath Ales pub in Frampton Cotterell - but the Bell is a close second. Discount the Live & Let Live and the Bell is easily the best restaurant within 10 miles.


  1. Holy spirit batman, you can't go wrong with "god wine" I always say, worship at the temple of Bacchus whenever you can! :)

    Funny enough I've actually visited this pub, back in the early 90s whilst doing an IT project at Heron homes in Yate; unfortunately not memorable then but sounds like it's on the up now!

  2. Steve: Thanks for pointing out the typo - now corrected.

  3. Hi Bill,I think your missing the point of the 'wikileaks' giving the locations of strategic terrorist targets.The point is that the terrorists may not have considered some of these as being quite so necessary as they obviously are.
    What good do these revelations do.I cant see why we need to know or what good they can do, indeed quite the opposite. What purpose does Julian Assange serve by doing this.
    Agree with you about the fire jobbie though;we were down in Cheltenham visiting my dad and went to the Royal Oak at Prestbury and felt compelled to save their fire which was on it's last gap and was bothering me somewhat.

    Cheers Richard

  4. Richard: I could understand it if the assets were actually useful, or in the case of Goonhilly actually working.

    If terrorists think any of these so called assets are critical, then they're bloody awful terrorists. It is much more efficient to poison a population through the water supply or to blow up a few trains.

  5. Richard: PS - take a look at http://www.lilithgallery.com/articles/terrorist_targets.html

    This was written in 2004 by an American speculating on terrorist targets. Is this to be judged alongside WikiLeaks?

  6. Fairpoint Bill,but if Julian Assange had comeby some information that truly could be lethal would you consider it justified if he published it?
    Cheers Richard

  7. Richard: If my mother were my father, she wouldn't be my mother. If is a big word that puts words and actions into others' mouths - perhaps words and actions they have no intention of saying or doing...

  8. Chairman Bill,

    I couldn't agree more with your comments/review.

    I do feel that the lack of professionalism and lack of food quality are the two things that let this "pub/eatery" down.

    I have now eaten at The Bell a total of three times and on all three occasions they have slipped in professionalism, quality of service and food standards.

    I found some staffs lack of product knowledge was appalling - I experienced the "oh let me just check" on the soup, meat for the sunday lunch, risotto type, guest ales, and wines - this part is easy to get right.

    I found that the food was expensive for what it was, I eat in Bath Pubs on a bi-weekly basis and the food is approximately the same price as the Bell but is many times better than the "freezer to microwave" food that is served in the bell - It felt like i was in a double priced JD Wetherspoons.

    They are a Brand New pub and should NOT be making silly mistakes like they are. such as giving a customer whole menu on a sunday - showing off the specials board and then mentioning at the time of ordering "oh sorry you can't have xxx as we only serve sunday lunch on a sunday".

    The lack of table service, and the faffing around of the staff not knowing who-does-what is also something that grinds me down - I was asked 3 times if my meal was "OK" - and - when the plates were removed I wasn't asked if I wanted another beer/drink.