Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Bell Inn

Way back in November, in Mother Russia, I was ummming and ahhhhing about what to get Rich for his birthday. Being away, I tried painstakingly to organise a day out for him and a friend to do - so he had a nice celebration on the day itself - unfortunately, it just never came together.

Then, just as I was about to despair, I came across a great deal on a trip to the New Forest and it was a BARGAIN!

The Groupon deal included:

  • A night's B&B accommodation at The Bell Inn in one of their Classic Rooms.
  • A glass of champagne on arrival.
  • A 2-course meal in the bar (including everything on the a la carte menu and specials boards).
  • Tickets to the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu.
As Rich is a lover of cars, I thought it would be a good combination of romantic mini-break and lad-ish day out and BONUS it was something we could do together after a busy Christmas period. Ringing the hotel from Russia, the line was often tenuous and crackly but the ladies on reception were more than helpful, answering all of my questions (even if they were silly) and putting up with cut call after cut call. I pencilled it in to my diary and smiled, happy in the knowledge that we had something to look forward to. 

So last Thursday, I bundled myself on to a train to Southampton, voucher in hand, looking forward to a chilled out evening. Rich, who was meant to meet me from the station, was over an hour late (to those who know him, that won't be a surprise). So I spent a while wandering around the shops of West Quay. After a mere 20 minute drive, past some really awful flooding (which was what stalled Rich apparently), we arrived to the hotel, situated on a quiet-ish country road. 

The first thing that struck me was the lack of cars in the car park - Rich and I were evidently two of very few guests (which is sometimes worrying, but who really short breaks on a Thursday?!). A lovely lady greeted us at reception and gave us our key (room 8 on the ground floor).

I was impressed with the decor of the hotel - a palette of mainly greys and woods accented with colourful furniture and large flower blooms. On our way to the room, I spotted a cosy looking room filled with comfy looking sofas which looked like they needed testing out and made a mental note for later. I wasn't disappointed in the bedroom either (their standard room) with muted colour scheme and a bright patterned feature wall. I absolutely adore Jack Vettriano and was happy to see some of his canvas prints lining our walls.
I was less impressed with the bathroom which was (almost glaringly) one colour. The room showed a few signs of wear and tear (peeling paint on the handles of the white bath, a few scratches on the wall paper) but overall it was lovely and well presented. A minor problem was handled swiftly with a big apology - my dirty mug was replaced by a gleaming one with extra tea and biscuits by way of apology!

I'd made a dinner reservation for 7.30pm and we found ourselves alone in the restaurant with a 1:1 staff ratio. A table of 5 later joined us. Having had a sneak peak at the menu before hand, and the gorgeous promotional pictures on the website, I had high expectations of the food. Perusing the menu, champagne in hand, Rich decided on Mutton with potato rosti and poached egg to start whilst I chose Chicken parfait with toasted brioche and caramelised onion chutney.

The starters were divine - neither of the dishes were what we expected they would be, but had a very welcome reception. My parfait was fairly standard but the chutney was gorgeous. Rich's starter was something else entirely - the flavour combinations were unusual but they worked well and, whilst not expecting a carpaccio style mutton, he thoroughly enjoyed it.
Both Rich and I opted for the venison main course, served with a creamed parsnip and horseradish, candied beetroot, a dauphinois potato cake and some kind of red wine reduction. As a newbie to game meat, I wasn't quite sure what to expect but what I got was fabulous. It was more steak-like than I had envisaged and I enjoyed every mouthful. My only thought would be that maybe a bit of greenery would have added to the overall look of the plate which was all a bit one coloury (look at me getting all master chef).
Rich treated us to a pricey bottle of red wine to go with our lovely dinner (Pinot Noir Coopers Creek Marlborough, New Zealand 2012), which took a good ten minutes to arrive after searching the cellars! Being the girl that always orders the house wine, I let out a little gasp when he ordered it but, after sampling it, I can see that spending a little more does make a difference. It was really light and nothing like the thick reds you often get as house bottles - you could actually taste the berry notes in it! I think there is a wine connoisseur in me yet ;) 
We were both underwhelmed by the cheese portion sizes of the cheese and biscuits, but soon realised that the portions were more than sufficient after tackling a starter, main and a round of these beautiful hand baked pork scratchings with celeriac salt.
All in all I can say that we had a wonderful meal at The Bell. The flavours were great and the meals were presented just as beautifully as the promotional pictures on the website. If we are ever in the vicinity again, I will definitely be making a return visit. The bar staff were a delight and always happy to give their opinion on the menu and willing share a joke or two some of which were at their expense (they offered us the desert menu just as we finished our starters!).

Some lovely friends joined us for drinks after our meal (polishing off another two bottles of house red!) and I can confirm, after we were turfed out of the bar at closing time, that the sofa room is a must visit.

With the hang-over that proceeded in the morning I was very glad to be greeted with a steaming pot of earl grey and a fry up.

We had a wonderful stay at The Bell and would definitely recommend it as a quiet stay in the country for couples. The surrounding countryside was beautiful, with horses roaming freely on the verges of the road (be careful driving!!). Being only half and hour from Southampton, you can have the best of both worlds - city and country rolled in to one. They have got some great Valentines day offers advertised and a Game Dinner I very much had my eye on...hopefully I'll be able to return one day soon.

With love from the New Forest x


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