Ahhh, smell that? That’s the smell of clean country air. We happily took in great big gulps of unpolluted H2O as we hurtled through green fields towards Ramsbury in our hire car. Taking just under two hours from Central London, we were here to check out the award-winning estate which comprises of a brewery and distillery, pub and on-site smokehouse.
The pub itself is situated in a whitewashed 300-year old former coaching inn and is home to nine rooms. It has recently been crowned AA’s Pub of the Year and even Prince Charles has popped in to see what all the fuss is about so we had high hopes for a restorative foodie break. Situated in a teeny tiny village, not far from Marlborough in Wiltshire, The Bell is centred around a small village square where it’s rare that you’ll pass someone – but if you do, they’ll most definitely stop for a chat.
We were staying in their super king superior ‘Trout Room’ *ahem* which was ever so charming with views over the quiet square below. Fishy artwork adorned the walls which had been decorated in inoffensive neutral hues and spruced up with a jug of fresh flowers left by the bed. An exposed brick fireplace had been filled with more flowers in lieu of an actual fire. The bathroom was small but had the all-important bath (honestly, what use is a romantic retreat without one), toiletries were from The White Company and fluffy robes were ready and waiting for us to dive into. You’ll find a homely honesty bar just outside your room should you not have the energy to walk downstairs to the pub below.
It being the super-hot bank holiday it was, we were expecting The Bell to be overrun with thirsty punters but the spacious garden was as far away from a sweaty Hackney beer garden on a hot summer’s day as you could imagine. We found a sunny spot to read the papers from and spent the next few hours drinking the Ramsbury signature serve – that’s a G&T garnished with a slice of apple and pear – summer in an ice cold glass I tell ya.
Wanting to find out a bit more about the estate we made the short journey over to the distillery where they make their own super smooth vodka, gin and beer. Spread over 19,000 acres of North East Wiltshire, West Berkshire and North Hampshire, the estate aims to grow absolutely everything themselves (English quinoa anyone?) and uses home grown wheat and barley, combined with water from their own chalk-filtered source to make their booze. Any leftover grains are fed to their beautiful herd of cows and their aim is to actually improve the local area, not just neutralise their work.
Regional gins are having a bit of a moment (we’ve written about them in more detail for The Independent here) but we think the beauty of them is the use of locally grown ingredients to differentiate them – at Ramsbury the gin is finished with quince. Honestly some of the clearest, purest spirits we’ve had the pleasure of trying, the gin goes particularly well with smoked salmon whilst you should try the vodka with their venison. To book a tour yourself, visit the website. It’s well worth a visit just to check out their gorgeous copper stills…
Back at the ranch and the pub was heaving. If you want to sample this award-winning food, it’s essential you book ahead. Obviously you should have a pre-dinner aperitif in the pub itself before going through to the more formal dining room. There’s an a la carte menu with homely dishes like sharing camembert, burgers and steaks or a tasting menu priced at a very reasonable £65 if you want to get a flavour of everything it is that they do.
In the name of research we went for the later, feasting on vibrant green nettle soup with peas and feta, a sticky sweet piece of bbq ox cheek, smoked octopus topped with chefy foam, hazelnuts and muscat grapes. Perhaps our favourite dish of the night was the pan fried seabass served on a bed of lentils with mussels, liquorice and dukah. Poached rabbit loin is also available on the a la carte menu but we got a mini version here before moving on to a palette cleansing shot of mandarin sorbet and finishing with a square of brown butter torte. Luckily we only had to stumble a few steps to a comfy bed.
Breakfast is served in the same dining room, where the papers are laid out for you, the coffee is hot and the service friendly. Scrambled eggs as yellow as the sun filled our bellies and got us back on the road.
Just as millions tuned in from around the world to witness the royal wedding in all its splendour and saw a wholly unrealistic version of England being beamed back to them, we found ourselves thinking, do local pubs like this really exist? Turns out they do.
If you’re a fan of Daylesford or The Pig then The Bell is certainly one to watch. They’ve actually poached staff from the former to run this place, and they’ve got grand plans for turning the place into a similar escape for us city folk who like their countryside served up to them on a plate in a clean pair of hunters. The Bell still has a little way to go before it’s quite as polished as either of those, but with outstanding produce, a picture-perfect location and an enthusiastic team, we think it’s only a matter of time before it happens. Get in now before the secret gets out.