Given the opportunity, my girlfriend would have had us upped and moved to Belbroughton some time ago. She yearns for a small cottage in this quaint village just far enough away from the city for me to not be able to invite a club full of people back to ours at 4am. She sells the dream with stories of being able to walk a dog down the hill to one its numerous pubs for a quiet pint and a game of darts. Utter rubbish. I am yet to meet a dog that could play me at darts. Don’t get me wrong, I like the village on the peripherals of the Clent Hills a lot, I just cant see me wanting to live there whilst my feet are slender enough to go dancing in a pair of tasselled loafers. But I also know I have very little choice. I am a man wanting a simple life with working eardrums and for this it will likely happen a lot sooner than I would like. I suggest we go for lunch to assess the quality of the food.
The Bell is our destination. Its the gateway to Belbroughton from the less than picturesque A491. Its a big pub, looming from its perched hillside position. Inside it feels warm and vast, full of coves and twists and turns. I sit there and think how difficult it would be to wait tables here. Some nibbles arrive in the form of flavoured filo pastry. I ask the waitress what flavour they are; she tells me she doesn’t know, but that they are vegetable crisps. Its not the greatest start. Bread arrives, a substantial portion for four quid, with olives, balsamic and olive oil, and a butter which tastes more unpleasant the more we have. I think its the astringent bitterness of raw garlic, though I don’t go back for seconds to confirm.
My starter sounded much better on paper than it looked on the plate. A wedge of Brie, crumbed and coated, oozing on to a apricot chutney that was sweet and little else. It was a saccharine gloop, crying out for acidity and texture, not three sorry pieces of wilted rocket. Far better was a hearty bowl of linguine, full of the advertised crab, prawn and chorizo, and fantastic value at £9.
Ham and chips is a simple, but beautiful thing when done correctly. Here was two slices of good quality ham, let down by everything around it. Two eggs, cooked to a solid yolk that I could have played squash with – yes, they were changed when I mentioned it, but really, with no sauce it is obvious that the dish needed a runny yolk for moisture. Along side this was a wedge of raw pineapple which would repeat on me all day and skin-on chips, a fine concept had the spuds been washed correctly. The gritty potatoes returned with battered halloumi; a dish slowly appearing on every gastropub menu. Here was a decent rendition, the bland cheese sitting nicely with good mushy peas and a tartar sauce in need of more poke.
Service was slow, and that is me being kind, leaving no time for a dessert that I probably would not have had anyway. Even at early lunch the place was thriving, with more pouring in through the doors as we trudged disappointed back to the car. Maybe these people see something in The Bell that I missed. I wont be returning, not even when I give in and live within walking distance. The search for my future local continues.