The Bell, Alresford

The Bell, AlresfordI've lived near Alresford for all of my 27 (ugh nearly 28) years and I have never once set foot in The Bell. That is because I have set foot in the Horse and Groom (aptly known to the youth of the the area as the Doom and Gloom) which has one of those red patterned carpets and you can still smell the hundreds of pre-smoking ban fags (most of which were smoked by me) and although I love it for it's familiar atmosphere it's not anywhere I would go for a nice supper. And there's a Pizza Express next door. I can't resist pizza.

Then there's The Globe - which is very nice in a way and the restaurant bit was lovely when I went there but for me there's something missing. Maybe its my complete frustration with the parking or the near-death experience of parking up the street and then going round the bend outside on foot. Or maybe it's because I've never managed to go there when the suns been out so I've always been confined to the crammed inside.

Anyway, The Bell has just been a step too far for me on the Alresford pub circuit. I see now this has been massive mistake. My brother-in-law announced that he was going to take us out to a 'nice gastropub' for supper last night as we'd all rather spent the last week since my father's death staring at the wall and listening to me overuse the word 'soothing' when describing anything (but mostly food). I think none of us wanted to go (except him and my husband who are massive foodies and week of pasta was getting to them rather I think). The thing is we only wanted to stare at the wall and drink gin (in my case vodka - my taste buds are just not grown up enough for gin yet). I for one was also worried that he'd take us to the wonderful Bush at Ovington which was a big favourite of my dad's and I think we'd have started crying as soon as we set foot in the door.

But he went to the trouble of booking us a taxi (sounds easy if you are a city dweller as he is... in the middle of nowhere it's a bit of a nightmare) so we schlepped along after him, me with my belief that The Bell was not going to be quite what he was expecting. Wrong - The Bell was not quite what I was expecting. The atmosphere is just fantastic - it was a Friday night and it was heaving but in such a friendly way that it didn't matter. One of the few places that does nice rose, our table was slightly late so we sat sipping in the garden and looking at the menu. The staff were really nice and polite - which I'm sadly just not used to anymore.

The menu was just fantastic - we're going to have to go back just because there were so many things that we would have liked to have had each! I shared a baked Camembert with Sam and it was without a doubt the best baked Camembert I've ever had. I don't know how they'd done it (we thought possibly with egg and Parmesan brushed on the top) but it was just fantastic - served with parma ham, chorizo, balsamic onions, sun dried tomatoes and olives I would happily have it again every day for a very long time if not for the rest of my life. I'm worried every baked Camembert from now on is going to be a massive let down. Joe and my mother had a very traditional looking prawn cocktail (declared 'soothing' by my mother which made me happy - I like her to be soothed) and my sister had a fantastic looking twice baked watercress and spinach souffle with Parmesan sauce which she declared was delicious but disappeared so quickly that none of us got a look in.

She and I both had the honey glazed pork belly with mashed potatoes and crackling - perfect smooth, creamy mash and proper, crackling. Sam, always the most adventurous had calves liver with bacon, Joe the lamb shank and my mother the soothing halibut. All declared delicious and tried by all and clean plates all round. I felt slightly like I was going to explode by the end - we've all been struggling to eat a small plate of pasta let alone two fantastic courses. I was too full even to have the Hampshire cheese board which, as a Hampshire girl, I'd decided I was duty bound to have.

Delicious rose and house red to go with the food and coffee with those yummy crispy Bendicts mint chocolate to finish - a really perfect supper. Check out the website - the pictures just don't do this delightful pub justice. You can also stay there so if you have a wedding in Winchester or anywhere around there and need somewhere to stay look no further.

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