R E S TA U R A N T
The Five Bells Inn TESS READ heads down country lanes to find a cosy welcome in Clyst Hydon
ountry pubs are famous for their picture postcard appeal, thatched roofs and pleasing gardens overlooking rolling fields and the rumps of cows that inhabit them. Stepping into the postcard, we expect dark wooden beams offset by white washed walls, cosy log fires and a friendly greeting. With The Five Bells Inn you get all this – plus a fresh modern feel, a commitment to local suppliers, the gold standard of allergy care, and exceptional food. It is only 10 miles from Exeter, down Devon’s winding green lanes, but it seems like a world away. We leave the city behind as we walk into a light airy space with clean lines and cloth napkins, and we know we are in for a good lunch. The chalkboard by the bar lists the week’s suppliers, detailing the provenance of all the meat, dairy, vegetables, and even the dry ingredients. My favourite is reading that the venison was shot on the Escot estate; the chalkboard even names the Bambi-killer in person. We sit at our table with a lovely view out to trees in superb autumn colour, enjoying the fresh baked sourdough and spiced soda bread with a bright yellow butter pat sitting on a small square of slate. Then, our friendly, unfussy waitress brings us the first major surprise of the meal. When eating out, I risk discomfort and, genuinely, death, because I am the allergy queen, being seriously allergic to eggs, nuts, mustard etcetera, etcetera. This means that I am always being told there are various items on the menu I can’t eat. But the Five Bells presents me with my own named menu so that I, too, have a full list of options to choose from – an entirely new experience for me. This is a service the head chef, Ian Webber, formerly of Gidleigh Park, is happy to do for customers if they let the restaurant know when they book of any dietary requirements.
IT IS ONLY TEN MILES FROM EXETER BUT IT SEEMS LIKE A WORLD AWAY
And so I begin with the fat, juicy Fowey mussels (sourced that day; sometimes they come from the Exe or Dart), and the cider sauce is extremely flavourful, light and easy on the cream. I often choose mussels as a healthy dish, and then find that I have consumed half a litre of cream which makes it not quite so healthy. No such problem here. Him Outdoors has smoked, pickled red mullet with crab, fennel, apple and artichoke salad and brown crab emulsion from the specials menu. He is very happy with the generous amount of crab on the plate and goes on about the slightly sweet, appley pickle being a perfect match with the red mullet and crunchy apple discs. A lovely glass of Chilean sauvignon blanc for me and a half pint of Otter for him pave our way into the mains. I choose the pork cutlet and pork’s cheek, the chop perfectly grilled and the cheek slowly cooked to tender richness. With accompanying gloopy dollops of pureed butternut squash, rich dark gravy and delicate sprigs of greenery, I am surprised by the home comfort nature of the tastes. And the great attention to textures, with crackling that is almost fluffy. Him Outdoors has the dry aged Dartmoor lamb with shredded lamb on the side mixed with spelt grains, almost like a risotto. He waxes lyrical about the flavours and how well the sharp homepickled vegetables go with the tender lamb, and wonders if it is vulgar to comment that, as well as the food being all gastro and gorgeous, there is also a nice big lot of it. And then comes my killer dessert – caramelised cox’s apples with crunchy clusters of buttermilk, supremely crunchy home-made honeycomb, white chocolate ice cream, drops of sloe ice cream and an astonishing sorrel-flavoured ice cream. Mmmm. Chatting to the owner Gary about the history of the pub, I find that it was saved by local villagers in 2013 when it was threatened with closure, and I think that we can all be happy that it was. Maybe this is partly why there is one table with a sign over it saying it is a ‘Stammtisch’, a Bavarian word for a table reserved for regulars to meet and socialise, even at busy times. Now all we need is an excuse to make ourselves two of those regulars.
DINING DETAILS The Five Bells Inn, Clyst Hydon, Exeter, Devon EX15 2NT; 01884 277288; www.fivebells.uk.com Opening hours Food served Tue-Sat 12noon-2pm & 6-9pm Prices A la carte: starters from £5, mains from £12.50, desserts from £5.50 – look out for early lunch and early dinner set menus (2 courses for £16, 3 courses for £21) Veggie/vegan choice Excellent – dedicated vegetarian menu Drinks Very well stocked bar, with local ales and carefully selected wines from Christopher Piper Service/ atmosphere Everything you want from a local gastropub
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