Mr P visited the Bell in Yarpole, North Herefordshire last Augsust…..
The Bell Inn is a characterful place in one of those pretty North Herefordshire villages where, sadly, there are no longer enough native Herefordians. At one end of the picturesque black & white building there’s a serviceable village bar for drinking, with the customary bad lighting and public bar accoutrements, while the old central bar is more charming and used mainly by punters who are eating. Successive landlords have made the most of the pub’s exposed beams and panels of daubless wattle to emphasize its provenance. Adjoining the bar is a high vaulted barn – an authentic former cider mill (with mill stone still in place) used as a dining room and completely empty on an August Tuesday evening.
Before this visit Mr Pernickety had eaten at the Bell a few times over the past twenty years and seen the decline and fall of several landlords – most unsuitably at one time, a large moustachioed chap – a curly-haired version of Boycie frpm Only Fools, bedecked with flash watches, medallions and other items of bling, as worn in parts of East London, who can’t have felt much at home in these parts. At some point, the pub was sucked into the clutches of Enterprise Inns, one of the more voracious PubCos, which has been the start of a journey to the grave for more than a few once fine licensed premises. In 2006, the renowned Claude Bosi, who had earned a brace of Michelin Stars at Hibiscus in Ludlow, acquired a lease from Enterprise and installed his brother, Cedric. Earlier this year they gave it up and after a disastrous interregnum, Bosi’s former manager Lawrence Joplin and his wife took over the tenancy in July this year. Mr P went along to see how they were getting on.
One of the overwhelming problems with PubCo tenancies is that they’re not conducive to investing money on fitting out the premises, and if, on top of this, the tenant doesn’t have a natural flair for these things, the results can be dire. The handsome barn dining-room is furnished with ugly wall-lights, unattractive junk-shop chairs and tables. In the bar there are some awful prints of bug-eyed puppies and little girls in Victorian frocks playing with hoops, as well as the inevitable lacquered horse brasses tacked to the beams.
Mr P, in deep disguise as usual, was startled to find already installed at an adjacent table in the bar a party who not only recognised him, but had somehow established his secret identity. This potential problem was compounded when the charming young lady who came to take his order turned out to be a friend of Master Pernickety. However, maintaining a degree of discretion, Mr P and his Lovely Companion pressed on, deriving some encouragement from reading the menu.
Of course printed menus are just words, a list of things that give no indication of taste or the skill with which the dishes will be cooked, but they do give a hint of a chef’s aspirations, and this one looked as if he were trying. The Lovely Companion, while tempted by Pan Seared Scallops, opted for Grilled Mackerel Fillet with Rye Bread & Gooseberry Relish (£4.95). Mr P has never really seen the point of gooseberries, but the LC looked happy and said the relish offered an interesting and not too forceful contrast to the fish and the strong taste of the Rye bread (to which, being of Danish extraction, she is naturally partial.)
Eating a few mouthfuls of soft uncrusty bread from a basket as he chose, Mr P rejected the Cappaccio (sic) of Dexter Rare Breed Fillet of Beef with Roquette, Capers and Parmesan Shavings (£5.95) on the grounds of bad spelling, unnecessary description of Dexter as a “rare breed” and pointless use of the French for “rocket”. He ordered instead Wild Rabbit Terrine, Fig Chutney with Melba Toast (£5.45).
The toast wasn’t really “Melba”, but it was jolly good, while the terrine, with an insert of liver paté and its blob of fig chutney was thoroughly enjoyable. Sadly, the salad which came with it was as jaded as a Sunday morning youth. Nevertheless Mr P and the LC began to feel optimistic about the rest of dinner.
Erroneously, as it turned out.
The LC looked crestfallen as she laid into her Overnight Roasted Free Range Berkshire Pork Shoulder, Smoked Bacon and Cabbage (13.95). The cabbage, she said, was almost overcooked and mixed with far too much bacon. The Overnight Roast had simply resulted in an Overcooked Roast, leaving the pork flesh tasteless, its fat a little sour and the crackling squidgy, not helped at all by a stuffed apricot perched on top.
Mr P’s Fillet of Beef and Mushroom Stroganoff was also disappointing. The beef was overwhelmed by a smoky paprika sauce, and the brown and wild rice which came with it was too hard to absorb it.
A shared dish of vegetables contained some good, firm cauliflower and al dente French beans. On the other hand, the cubes of boiled swede were soggy and the carrots as limp as the wrists of the late lamented Liberace.
However, a bottle of L’Emage Pay d’Oc Cab Sauvignon (from a very short list – all at £14) was good enough, and Mr Pernickety’s by now negative feelings were somewhat mollified by a pudding of good, firm, not too sweet Chocolate Tart with (delicious) Kirsch Marinated Cherries and Creme Fraiche (£4.95) marred only by a waitress commanding that Mr P, “Enjoy it!” – a practice which Mr P regularly deplores; it’s far more agreeable if staff simply declare the hope that their customers will enjoy the food.
In balance, thanks mainly to the good starters and the pudding, Mr P felt it might be worth giving the Bell a second shot, but for now cannot enthusiastically endorse it. It’s certainly a nice old pub, malgré the pictures, and they’re obviously trying – if, perhaps, a little too hard.
Mr Pernickety’s Rating: ** Adequate
The Bell Inn, Green Lane, Yarpole, Herefordshire HR 6 8BD
Tel: 01568 780 359