Muddy eats: The Bull gastropub, Henley
For an area that so attracts tourists in droves to its riverbanks and Georgian elegance, Henley is not overly blessed with places to eat and drink. Shaun Dickens at the Boathouse ties up fine dining; The Three Tuns is the good quality local; and the go-to venue for cool styling and gastropub fare is definitely The Bull on Bell Street.
The Bull has been a pub for some 700 years and is one of Henley’s oldest buildings, but was given a major makeover two years ago. Ain’t it pretty?
There’s a large bar/lounge area, with a little piano bar to the side…
…moving through to an elegant restaurant with the kitchen visible from the far end (though, er, not at the far end of my photo which was cleverly shot from the other direction!).
It’s cool and spacious for summer but you can really sense how it would come into its own on inclement days, with its warmely textured seating, heritage colour scheme and large log fires. On the day I visited it so beautifully sunny outside that we joined everyone else to eat in the courtyard area. Very buzzy and a lovely little suntrap.
Being bang in the middle of town there’s no river view or rangy garden, but somehow it doesn’t matter – the courtyard does the job just fine. And The Bull feels so spacious that I’d say its still fine for kids and pushchairs – apparently there’s a high turnover of mums and pushchairs on a morning in the lounge area attacking the cakes and coffee.
The lunch menu are crowd-friendly staples – salads, steak or moules frites, burgers, goujons, risotto whilst dinner menus are more intricate. We both had the chicken with roasted peppers and rocket (it was too hot to contemplate anything else) and it hit the mark perfectly. Just right for a girly lunch date.
I had overdressed by a mile – wearing a JUMPER and skinny jeans on the hottest day of the year – so it was either move inside for dessert or eat outside my old M&S bra. Tempting… but we moved into the conservatory…
… and then woofed a perfectly judged lemon tart and a sorbet, plus a coffee to round the lunch off.
What else to tell you? Well there’s a natty private dining or conference area, plus a microbrewery on site, and certainly if you’re a gentleman Muddy reader you’ll be very happy to pop in and have a pint there.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Being bang in the middle of town – and tantilisingly close to the lovely Fluidity boutique (just saying), it’s a perfect stop off for a girly lunch if you’re visiting for the day, but I would use it in a flash for business meetings/lunches, or relaxed dinners. There are so many elements to The Bull, from the piano bar to the conservatory, the fab courtyard to restaurant, that you’d be hard pushed not to find a way you can use it. I love the styling too – by far the coolest interior in Henley.
Not for: River lovers or huge garden hankerers. There’s no parking on site so you’ll have to walk from Waitrose or the long stay car park. Food is very good gastropub fare – if you’re after fine dining, this isn’t for you.
£££: Mid range. £5-9 for entree, £13-16 for most mains, £6-7 for desserts. Sunday lunches between £14-16.
The Bull on Bell St, 57-59 Bell Street, Henley RG9 2BA. bullonbell.co.uk