Circa 40 years ago pubs were mostly about drinking alcohol. It was near impossible to get a decent glass of wine other than Babychamp, a sparking drink made of cider and on the food front the best you could hope for was pate and toast or a Ploughman’s.
But even then there were a few pubs around the country where a gentleman could take his other half to celebrate a special occasion and where romance could blossom. These were more than mere gastropubs, the tables would be laid with the finest white linen, china and cut glass. The Bell at Aston Clinton, near Tring, in Buckinghamshire was one such venue.
Not only that it had a reputation for entertaining the A list celebrities of the day. The Rolling Stones once stayed there, so did Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and the various legal teams during the trial of the Great Train robbers.
The dining room was almost like walking up the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival…with glittering glass chandeliers and soft lighting and you felt very special walking across it to your table with a maitre’d to escort you. It even had one Michelin Star despite the problems of attracting the best chefs to a tiny village off the beaten-track, in Buckinghamshire.
But places like The Bell are only as good as the people who manage them – people who excel in picking great chefs and produce. And so The Bell very gradually fell into decline.
But now the good news. The Bell is back following a refurbishment during the Covid pandemic. The décor has been refreshed but in keeping with the beautiful features of an 18th century coaching inn with huge wooden beams. There are lots of different, cosy rooms and areas and a lot of the original features, like the dark wood, and the lovely old stone flag floors have been kept. There is also a private dining room forextra special occasions.
General Manager, Mark Jackson, said the new decor celebrates wanted The Bell’s glamorous, celebrity past, hence the jewel colours: emerald green, deep, inky blue, touches of blush and copper, decadent light fittings and the design elements like the velvet dining booths and that wallpaper.
The bar area is beautiful, with a real cosy and welcoming feel. There are tinted glass lamps and flagstone floors. The staff are fun and friendly too. There are some delicious cocktails and a good selection of alcohol free options, including house sodas and an alcohol-free pink G&T.
There is an impressed with the wine list too, with very drinkable Studio by Miraval rosé on the list And it has a menu to fit all budgets.You can even have one course if you don’t want 3. Even though its owned by Michael & Butlers plc, who happen to also own the All Bar One chain.
No matter how good your surrounds and the food, it all falls flat if the service is poor. But on the day we visited the service was professional…and friendly – in particular the young barman who engaged in some friendly banter, while ordering our aperitif.
I had the following:
– Pan-fried Atlantic scallops with Devon crab & King Prawn bon bone and a pea and truffle velour (£11.50)
– Rack of lamb, with chorizo, butternut puree, roasted shallots, cavil Nero, dauphinoise potatoes, pesto and a bordelaise jus (£22.95)
– Passion Fruit Martini Eaton Mess (£7.75)
– Balsamic and Rosemary Lamb Koftas on a Greek-style salad, Goat’s cheese, roasted chick peas and pomegranate (£7.25)
– 10oz Rib-Eye steak with chips and onion rings (£23.97)
– Lemon Meringue and Flamed Alaska (£7.50)
A bootle of Argentinian Malbec £35.50
The meal was fabulous and the service outstanding. The menu is so good its hard to choose.
Nr Aylesbury, Bucks