We are big fans of Alan Gleeson. The Oxfordshire chef is a great, sturdy, reliable, gifted hulk of a man whose food I adore.
I first came across him at The Harcourt Arms, his kitchen skills placing the country pub firmly on the map, before he was made redundant in lockdown.
Popping back up at one of Daylesford‘s new Cotswold pubs, The Fox in Oddington last year, it immediately become a bustling hub of Lady B fans, Cotswolds locals, mini-breakers and weekenders (it has rooms), the light-hearted menu hitting a well-heeled spot. READ OUR REVIEW HERE
So we were even more delighted to see him manning the culinary fort at The Bell in Charlbury, which is opening on Sunday, at a sneak preview to sample his new menu.
And with the young and ambitious Nic Scarpellini as head chef, formerly of the much esteemed Hollybush in Witney, he’s got an amazing team to work with as he moves between The Fox and The Bell.
No expense has been spared on converting the 17th century pub READ ABOUT IT HERE and it’s as immaculate, tasteful and countrified as we’ve come to expect, with nods to local artisan crafts, from printed wallpaper to sustainable and energy saving gadgets, fitting neatly into the town.
With a handsome, solid bar, a myriad of dining options both inside and out, extensive parking and a garden stretching right down to the river boasting a covered eating area, tables and chairs and even some deckchairs to soak up the late Indian summer, it has plenty of hospitality on offer.
And while our tour of the premises was fascinating, I wanted to get to the nitty-gritty – the food.
We sat in the courtyard garden, nursing some Love Rosé by Léoube, from the Daylesford vineyard in Provence, (who doesn’t have their own vines these days?) while snacking on a little pot of freshly devilled crispy whitebait with lemon (£9) and a wonderfully tart, creamy, crunchy tartare sauce.
A plate of heritage tomatoes with Stracciatella (the gooey inside of a burrata) and basil (£9) was equally refreshing.
Dipping into a more autumnal offering, the Wootton estate venison carpaccio with pickled walnut (£12), it was packed full of flavour while remaining a delicate, rich and elegant dish. Equally dark were the roasted heritage beetroots with salsa verde (£9) – just the right side of al dente and doused in that piquant and verdant herby sauce.
The sharing plate style options continued with moules mariniere (£16) which lacked that classic Gallic punch, needing more liquid and less onion. Plus we had to order bread to because otherwise how do you soak up the juices?
But the French dip, brisket and Oxford Isis (£16) was inspired, like a New York pastrami sandwich, layered up and skewered with a stick, each layer adding to the excitement – complete with home pickled cucumbers and an onion jus for dunking, one of our favourites.
Surprisingly, another star of the show was the butterhead (lettuce), courgette, radish, dill salad with Caesar dressing which we ordered with fries. Liberally adorned with parmesan it was crisp, clean, crunchy and the dressing absolutely spot on. We nearly licked the plate clean.
And then dessert – the roasted plums with mascarpone and crushed Amaretti (£9) a marvel of soft, tart fruit, crunch of biscuit and satisfyingly thick cream cheese.
The bitter chocolate tart with creme fraiche (£9) was also a hugely decadent addition to the menu and we waded straight in to enjoy a heady hit of chocolate which was just the right mix of savoury and sweet, offset by the sharp cream.
So you see, The Bell is going to be another big hit for the Daylesford stable because it has something for everyone – a great Sunday lunch menu, something for the little ones, dog friendly and easy on the eye. And with Alan in the kitchen, The Bell has got real credibility.
Throw in prices that won’t break the bank, extensive accommodation options and it looks like Daylesford will add another bustling Cotswold gastro pub to add to its burgeoning portfolio, which in the current climate is quite something.
The Bell, 1 Church Street, Charlbury, OX7 3PP. https://www.thebellatcharlbury.com/food-drink/