It takes us all of ten minutes drive from Stratford upon Avon to Alderminister, where we have lunch booked at The Bell. It feels like a lifetime away; the touristy bustle of Shakespeare’s home fades out to a lush greenery, with only cars and cows for company. The air is clean here, the pace of a life a yard slower than the rushed city steps we are used to. It makes me hanker for a simpler life. One where I don’t have a choice of where to go for falafel, or which Pokémon Go player to mow down next.
Our arrival at The Bell only enhances these emotions, more so when we are seated in the garden to make the most of our four days of British Summertime. Here the chairs may be harder on the back, but the view gets no better. The hedges open up to sprawling fields that roll and promise to never end. We look inside to the airy white dining room, ornate and filled with washed wood. It looks a nice place to have dinner but today we will bask in the warm rays. Its safe to say we will be back to sit in the room when the weather is less generous.
The menu is a list of things you want to eat, all a cut above normal pub grub. We opt for the set menu – a bargain at £17.50 for three course – and order a pint or two of local beer to see us on our way. A salad of pickled vegetables, tomato, parmesan and prosciutto is a simple thing, well executed. It is a sum of parts, all of which are sourced and handled with respect. The bite of the pickled veg releases just enough acidity to cut through the salty ham.
The best dish we ate all day would be pork and pepper meatballs, meaty and heavily seasoned, with a saffron risotto and confit chorizo. Everything is accurately cooked but it is the risotto that makes it; as good as any I’ve eaten since Gauthier two years ago, light and rich with metallic saffron notes. This is stellar cooking for a pub. A vegetarian main sees a thick slice of aubergine grilled with a smoky tomato sauce and parmesan as a nod towards the northern Italian melanzane. The side salad has bits of bulgur wheat clinging on to fat cubes of feta. Dots of pomegranate give pops of sweetness and slivers of pickled red onion for a sharp tang. All the flavour profiles are here. Its a clever bit of vegetarian cooking.
Sweet courses are on familiar ground. Eton mess is a comforting blend of cream, strawberry and meringue, whilst a sticky toffee pudding is all sweetness and no respite. Both are well made and constructed, the attention to detail there with the coloured and decorated meringue. I should point out that the desserts on the a la carte look far more appealing. Next time, eh.
And with that we say goodbye to our utterly charming waitress, pay our way and stroll out the back for a walk across the fields. We came with no expectations other than a feed out in the sticks and left wishing that we lived closer. The Bell at Alderminster is a great place which I know we will come back to time and time again.
The Bell at Alderminster is part of Shakespeare’s England. For more information please see shakespeares–england.co.uk/