Exciting contemporary food in a historic setting
It is difficult to imagine a more versatile dining venue in the Eastside region than Ye Olde Bell, the four star hotel just off the A1 between Retford and Doncaster. If you have lived in the area for any length of time you’ve probably eaten there before, perhaps for a formal function, wedding or family celebration.
With a history dating back to the 17th century and all the traditional comforting touches we associate with dining establishments that have stood the test of time – oak panelling, leaded windows, open fires and plush fabrics – Ye Olde Bell ticks all the boxes. But that is only half the story.
Relaxed dining seems to be the watchword here with a versatile menu of crowd-pleasing pub classics, light snacks, a la carte dishes and daily specials to suit most tastes and budgets. You can mix and match whether you eat in the light and airy bistro, the chic 1650 restaurant, in the garden or on the terrace.
And with new head chef Tim Stamp eager to make his mark and incorporate his passion for adventurous cooking it is clear that this former coaching inn certainly is not stuck in a time warp.
We ate on a gorgeous summer evening that allowed for a pre-dinner stroll in the grounds and the chance to spy from a discreet distance as a wedding party (catered by a separate banqueting kitchen) spilled out into the garden. It wasn’t quite warm enough to sit on the terrace, but with the sun streaming through the bistro windows we found the perfect spot to eat and enjoy a rare sunny evening in this soggy summer.
As well as the regular menu, itself packed with variety, there were daily specials and a ‘celebrate English wine week’ menu, so no shortage of choice as we sat in the impressive reception, sipping prosecco and making our choices.
A big impression was made from the first mouthful. Soup of the day, Thai carrot, had a suitably punchy hit of coriander and lemon grass.
Meanwhile a starter of pork-crusted salmon, chosen purely because it sounded so daringly different, scored highly for both taste and texture. This was a savoury treat, with a crunchy powdered pork coating on very fresh, moist salmon, beautifully balanced by a slightly sweet lemon puree and apple and endive salad. This is what Tim, only 27 but something of a veteran since he started working in kitchen restaurants at the age of 12, describes as molecular gastronomy – creating new dishes with different tastes and textures, using the kitchen as a science lab. The experiment certainly worked – this unusual starter was a talking point all the way home.
For mains I had a juicy sirloin steak, cooked rare as requested with all the trimmings including super crunchy breaded onion rings. My friend Kirsten, who worked for several years in a seafood restaurant and is decidedly picky about her fish, was unstinting in her praise for a beautiful plate of baked lemon sole, served with wild spinach, confit tomato, celeriac mash and a rather special smoked ham and butter sauce. It looked spectacular too.
Desserts gave us the opportunity to sample some delicious coconut ice-cream and a selection of rhubarb treats, and the very well-balanced wine list offered up a zingy, lemon-fresh bottle of Picpoul, the perfect wine for summer in my book.
Ye Olde Bell Hotel, Barnby Moor, Retford, DN22 8QS. Tel: 01777 705121