The Best Pub in England
Into the winner's enclosure! A lovely village inn just across the Wiltshire border.
It’s worth crossing the border into the badlands of North Wiltshire for The Bell. Muddy Wilts Ed Joanna shows us why.
Slap bang in the centre of the oh-so-delightful village of Ramsbury in North Wilts, 300-year-old former coaching inn The Bell is a mere spit from the shopping mecca of Marlborough and hovers in the most picture-perfect spot at the end of the high street in Wiltshire’s Best Kept Large Village. But The Bell can beat that award hands down as it’s only gone and been awarded AA Best Pub in England! Here, in Wiltshire! Bring it on!
The pub is light and bright – forget wonky corners and rustic brick, this is more Farrow and Ball meets genteel Scottish plaid. Stylish possibly, civilised definitely, perhaps a tad formal for me but you can’t beat The Bell’s friendly welcome. There is a cosy nook with a mascara-melting fireplace and they’ve played a blinder installing a village café at the back of the pub serving tea and cake – packed at 3pm during the afternoon exodus from the local primary school. There is also a lovely pub garden, unusual for a central village pub, and nine bedrooms to stumble up to after a large night.
Relaxed, friendly, local, but professionally run – these guys know what they’re doing. You’ll like the look of the place – clean lines in the dining room, plenty of natural light pouring through the picture window – and then a more relaxed bar area and sofa corner.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Now for the important stuff, the USP of this gaff, the reason why The Bell stands heads and shoulders and AA awards above other gastro pubs. As part of the 19,000 acre Ramsbury Estate, The Bell has its own brewery, distillery and smokehouse. Which means that the beer is superb, they press their own oils and grow their own veg. More than that, fruit comes from their own kitchen garden, sausages and dry cured bacon come from The Bell’s smokehouse, dry aged beef from the Estate’s heard of south and north Devon cattle, and water meadow lamb is reared on the banks of the river Kennet on the Estate. During the winter months, venison and game birds from the Estate’s sustainable woodland feature on the menu. The Bell is also able to pour award winning Ramsbury single estate spirits as their house serve. Grain vodka and gin are made a stones throw from The Bell using the Estate’s own wheat, and water from their own source together with botanicals found on the Estate. To celebrate The Bell’s success, the Ramsbury Distillery is producing a limited edition gin “The Bell Reserve”, flavoured with Hyssop and Bergamont flowers. We’ll have some of that then, thank you very much.
Following their sustainability ethos, the by-products from the brewery and distillery are fed to the farm’s cattle, the steam from the distillery goes to heat the farm buildings, and….I could go on but you get the picture.
Basically, under the watchful eye of head chef Jonas Lodge, what goes in your gob is local, seasonable and sustainable, which is pretty bloomin’ cool in my book.
For starters, it’s got to be the baked Cornish camembert for me, with The Bells’ Belapur IPA chutney and crusty bread. My lunch date plumped for pan-seared scallops with salt baked squash, air-dried ham and sage ash. Que? I hear you ask. Me neither, but it tasted delicious, she said.
Onto entrees. Free range chicken breast with smoked bacon for me, with braised potato and baby carrots. I passed on the seared duck liver so my friend scoffed it and declared it melt-in-your-mouth perfection. She chose Cotswold venison loin with chicken stock potato, black garlic, pickled cranberries and pine and walnut green sauce. A serving of red cabbage appeared too, and despite neither of us being able to work out which dish it belonged to it didn’t last long! Pretty zingy on the tastebuds, that one. A side of purple sprouting broccoli and toasted almonds topped it all off.
Right, pud. We are both stuffed by now but I’m never one to turn down anything with honeycomb in it. We shared buttermilk and rose jelly, rhubarb, blood orange sorbet and shortbread. Well, stop there. This is possibly the best pudding I have ever eaten. Who knew jelly could be so scrummy? We also ordered malted chocolate torte with malted cabbage ice cream and beer honeycomb because, well, why not? For me, heavy rich chocolate does not sit well after a meal and I really don’t want to taste cabbage ice cream again, but I’m sure it suits some. Honeycomb was good, though.
You know it’s a good restaurant when there’s loads more on the menu you’d like to order, so next time I’m going for the Fowey mussels and Ramsbury Gold battered haddock.
OUT AND ABOUT
There are plenty of walks nearby (I might need it after all that food), including the lovely Ramsbury Meadow Nature reserve and its boardwalk over butterfly infested reeds. Marlborough and its shops and cafes are 7 miles away, and a little further afield are Wilton Windmill, Roves Farm, Stanton Park and Jungle Parc Swindon.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Not for: The decor isn’t particularly cool or funky, but that’s not what The Bell claims to be.
££: A tad on the pricey side. Starters are between £8-13, and on the mains menu fish and chips is £14, going up to £25 for Old Gloucester sirloin and £30 for roast grouse. But you’re worth it, aren’t you?
The Bell, The Square, High Street, Ramsbury, Wiltshire SN8 2PE. Tel: 01672 520230. thebellramsbury.com. Open Monday-Saturday 12pm to 11pm, Sunday 12pm-10pm.