The Bull on Bell Street
The Bull on Bell St ticks the boxes for cocktail drinkers, girl's lunches, family roasts and pretty much everything in between. Cool interiors too.
The Bull on Bell Street in the heart of Henley may look like a traditional coaching inn, but step inside and it’s anything but. At 700 years old the building’s one of Henley’s oldest, but it’s hard to tell from the inside after a renovation five years ago brought it up to date. Look closely and you’ll see pieces of history, but gone are the dark, tired snugs and in their place a well planned flexible space which works for every type of customer and almost every occasion.
You have the cosy ‘drinking’ section at the front with the whopping great open fire where you’ll want to hunker down with a good book, a glass of red and your cashmere hoodie, to the right is the ’conservatory’ which is light and bright with its new wooden floor with turquoise patterned slates and ‘stay a while’ velvet banquette seating. Then wind your way past the long bar (rammed on weekends), past the raised platform with the baby grand piano where live entertainment regularly pops up, and at the back you’ll find the two more formal rooms for dining.pub also has its own micro-brewery at the far end, brewing Brakspears cask ales in a stylishly buffed copper distillery behind a large display window as well as an outdoor terrace with its own bar and BBQ.
Step in from the street and you enter a cosy snug area with chairs you can sink right into, plumped up cushions and wood burning fires – welcoming on a dark winter’s night though thankfully not blasting out when I walked in this summer.
With the various ‘zones’ and versatile space, it attracts all sorts – midweek lunch was busy with business lunches, friends catching up over coffee and mums with babies, midweek evenings are calm and casual with dinners and cocktails and it’s all change at the weekend when DJ’s and live bands bring in the buzz. Service here is excellent – the staff are attentive, polite and friendly and that adds to a confident vibe.
SCOFF & QUAFF
I went for a midweek lunch and just before the highly emotional occasion that was my son’s graduation from nursery, I didn’t test out the extensive wine and/or cocktail list, but I can tell you they’ve just updated and upgraded their wine selection. There are now 42 varieties to choose from, including the award-winning rosé Whispering Angel Cote de Provence. Bramble (complete with blackcurrant jam) is the cocktail of choice according to the bar staff and the onsite brewery keeps fans of the hops happy.
As for the food (prepared by a relatively new kitchen team) there’s plenty of choice. It’s classic English with a hint of the Mediterranean with fish and chips, burgers and Sunday roasts being the go-to dishes. A greengrocer’s board stacked full of Lebanese bread, houmous, artichokes and sun dried tomatoes was my generous entrée, and I regretted ordering quite so much for main. My burger connoisseur husband was very impressed with his rare breed patty with streaky bacon, but thought the ‘signature bun’ could have looked more impressive.
In the interests of our five-a -day we shared a superfood salad, which although tasty, paled in comparison to my main – a smashed avocado panuozzo, (a pizza-esque toasted sandwich) which was exceptional. Sourdough packed full of avocado, poached egg, tomato salsa and drenched in marinara sauce. Neither of us managed to finish the dishes in front of us, but we did find space to share the recommended dessert – a chocolate peanut butter torte that I’ll go solo on next time.
For kids there’s a special menu with all the usuals, as well as a design your own pizza option and smaller portions of adult dishes also available.
OUT & ABOUT
The Bull is bang in the centre of Henley so it’s ideal for tourists, shoppers (plenty of groovy independents), cinema goers with the Regal is round the corner, or riverside walkers and their dogs (pooches are allowed in the conservatory). The River & Rowing museum is great for kids – currently it’s showing an exhibition of children’s illustrator Nick Sharratt – and you can also hire boats on the river.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Everyone. The Bull on Bell Street seems to have pulled off that tricky job of being all things to all people. It’s a welcoming place whatever your age or reason for going and given the huge selection of food and drink there’s sure to be something to satisfy the fussiest of palates.
Not for: If you’re looking for top-notch food and intimate dining then it’s probably not the place for you. Given its popularity I sense it would be hard to find a quiet moment here. Equally, although it passes the child-friendly test with ease, parents shouldn’t expect play areas or space to run around. And be aware that the weekends do get very busy.
The damage: Average for Henley I’d say. Starters are around £7, mains, £14 and desserts £6. Children can have three courses for £7.95 and Sunday roast will cost you £17 for beef or £16 for pork. There are also plenty of cheaper options for lunch or a light snack. Three plates of tapas for £15 over the summer.
The Bull on Bell Street, 57-59 Bell Street, Henley-On-Thames, RG9 2BA. Tel: 01491 576554.
Words: Rhiane Kirby
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