REVIEW: The Bell, Stoke Mandeville
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I reviewed The Bell in Stoke Mandeville (nr Aylesbury, Bucks) 18 months ago, just after it reopened under new management. Alas, the post was somehow munched up and spat into cyberspace when Muddy transferred to its current design, and I’ve been meaning to go back ever since.
I’m pleased to say I made it in last weekend – perfect timing on my part, it transpires, as The Bell has today just been announced Dining Pub of the Year (Bucks), by The Good Pub Guide 2015! No mean achievement in such a short space of time, particularly given the state of the pub at the time of takeover.
Now of course, the pub is completely different, with a tasteful interior refurb, re-planted garden, new patio and terrace area, and a revamped kitchen. All very good, but I come across loads of pubs with swanky makeovers that still disappoint, so it’s worth pointing out that I think the biggest calling card for The Bell is its owner James, one of the most friendly and hospitable landlords you’re likely to meet, with a deep understanding of what’s needed to run a decent pub (his own background includes The Hand and Flowers in Marlow), and as a dad of two pre-schoolers, also a great patience for family dining.
The reason I think the The Bell has won its award is that offers something increasingly difficult to find in pubs these days – great food, attentive service, an understanding of its customers, an unpretentious menu, and all at a reasonable price. It sounds so easy but I’m sure we’ve all gone into plenty of pubs where they fail on so many of these counts.
I started with bubble and squeak (£6.75) which was delicious, and whopper-generous.
Then when my mains of sauteed gnocchi with spinach and spring onion, and blue cheese cream sauce arrrived (£12.50) I realised I’d, er, slightly over-ordered the carbs. I can only assume that I am already subconsciously bedding down for winter, like a hamster. Or, um, a large bear.
It took every ounce of selfless professionalism for me to forge ahead for a vanilla pannacotta dessert, but I’m pleased I did, it was delicious.
Mr Muddy loved his meal too, though I’m afraid I was too busy eating my own to take any photos of his food. His only comment was that the lighting could have been turned down a couple of notches, which I agree with, as we both look much more attractive in the half-light. Fortunately we found a good bottle of red to blur the edges perfectly.
What else to tell you? Well, there’s an enticing Mighty Mussels night on a Monday that I’m going to come back for, being a moules frites kind of gal, and there’s also Fizz Friday which sounds quite enticing, with bottles of Prosecco for £15, and (I’m glad to say) an English champagne for £25. Not many pubs supporting English wines so that’s a big tick from me.
The Muddy Verdict:
Best for: relaxed meals with friends, casual dinners with partners. Those who like pub basics done well. Families are welcome and kids well catered for with half-portions of most meals and some mini specials too.
Not for: Anyone expecting bells, whistles and trendy gimmicks. You’re not going to faint from the beauty and audacity of the interiors, this is a traditional pub with a modern, tasteful upgrade. Some may find the nearby main road off-putting.
££: Reasonable pub fare, with starters from £4.50-£7, and most mains ranging from £12-15 (the 80z steak, at £28, the most expensive thing on the menu).
29 Lower Road, Stoke Mandeville, Bucks, HP22 5XA. Tel: 01296 612434 bellstokemandeville.co.uk