If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a good surprise. You don’t have to take your teddy bear if you don’t want to, nor go in disguise; just make sure you head for the New Forest village of Brook and you will discover a little gem called The Bell Inn.
The Bell Inn New Forest
Nestled comfortable on the edge of the New Forest, it is a classic country inn with bundles of character and has been owned by the same family since 1782. With 28 bedrooms and 2 18-hole golf courses (…yes 2!) it would make the perfect weekend break, or if you like country walks you can take a mid-ramble break and enjoy a pint of local ale in their dog-friendly bar or beer garden.
The Bell Inn really does focus on the provenance of their food. They have artistically detailed all of their local producers and suppliers on the back of the menu that they playfully refer to as “Estate to Plate”. We chose to dine in the Oak Room, which was decorated with consideration and reminded me of a classically traditional country house. The walls decorated with plenty of country-orientated pictures, but it doesn’t feel cluttered.
Head Chef – Mark Young
Having been raised on a farm and in the company of farmhouse cooks, Mark knew since the age of five that he wanted to be a chef. Mark has a true “nose to tail” philosophy to ensure that waste is minimal. He has appeared on UKTV Food’s Local Hero and reached the regional finals and when working on the Isle of Wight his restaurant won “Island Restaurant of the Year”.
Mark works closely with local suppliers. His signature dish of Crab Brûlée is sourced straight from The Solent, as does the Solent Blue Half Lobster dish. Other suppliers include Swallowfield Farm, Noah’s Ark Farm, The Cold Pressed Oil Company and Lyburn Farm.
Our waitress brought us the menus which included an extensive gin and cocktail list. Cocktails were suitably named and included a Bramshaw Bramble, a Haymaker and appropriately The Bell. Gins included the local Twisted Nose, Conker, Pothecary and Lymington varieties. While we decided what to eat, Inke decided to opt for a Champagne Cocktail which was made with a sugar cube, angostura bitters, lemon, and orange then topped with champagne. I decided to have a pint of the local Ringwood brewery’s Forty-Niner.
The Bell Inn’s wine list as you would expect has a selection of wines from countries including Australia, Chile, South Africa and France. However, it would be nice to have seen some wines that are available from Hampshire and surrounding counties on their list.
For my starter I had to try Mark signature dish, the Lymington Crab Brûlée. It was packed with lots and lots of crab and was topped with a parmesan and brioche crust, the accompanying green leaves gave the crab an almost herbaceous lift.
Inke was also tempted by a seafood starter and decided to have Pan Seared Scallops. Perfectly cooked they were still sweet and served with a pancetta tuille, crushed broad beans, fennel puree and a thermidor sauce.
For her main course Inke had the Hampshire Lamb. A techincal dish showing many styles of cooking including a slowly cooked shoulder, roast loin, and crispy belly. It was all brought together with a mint jus, dauphinoise potatoes and summer vegetables.
I chose the Creedy Carver Duck. These free-range ducks are reared in small flocks and have access to grassy paddocks and their own watering hole. A seared breast was accompanied by a confit leg, duck spring roll, thyme jus and of course duck fat roast potatoes! Once again a carefully considered plate of food highlighting Mark’s technical abilities.
Everything so far had been excellent, not a fault to be found, so we were definitely looking forward to dessert. I opted for a dish simply called Lemon. It is said you eat with your eyes first and this could not be more true with this dish. Lemon drizzle cake was accompanied by lemon posset, a refreshing Coker gin and tonic sorbet and lemon curd.
Inke had the Milk & Honey. A New Forest honey panna cotta was presented with honeycomb, pistachio puree and a rosemary scented tuille. Served in a small glass did not do justice to the wonderful wobble that was certainly evident and the sign of perfectly balanced panna cotta. The honeycomb and the tuille gave the required crunch needed to compliment the panna cotta.
I was extremely impressed with the quality of food served at The Bell Inn. If I had to award brand pillars to the kitchen they would be with no doubt provenance, flavour and technique. A wonderful lunch gave many a reason to visit again, especially as the menus are updated regularly.
The Bell Inn, Brook, New Forest, Hampshire SO43 7HE
We dined as guests of The Bell Inn, but all editorial content is my own.