Being appreciative in the south of England, 2: The Bell
If you are thinking of taking a break in the south Hampshire, there must be nowhere nicer to go than Alresford. And if you are going to Alresford there must be no nicer pub and hotel than The Bell. We took up all seven of their rooms and a large section of their restaurant every evening and morning for three days. I vowed I would give them a plug when I got home, because they were just lovely. The manager, Jean-Christophe, is French but he's been in England for ages; the first full day we had there we got back early evening tired after sight-seeing for hours and driving hither and yon, getting hot in Salisbury and cold at Stonehenge, and he was in the foyer waiting, and swept everybody up with welcoming words in French, chatted about the menu and took all their orders for dinner, and I just sat on a sofa with a beer and watched and enjoyed. His under-manager, Tiago, is Brazilian and warm and friendly, the kitchen-cum-bar-cum-waiting staff are an Australian, a New Zealander, a North African (I think), oh and one came from Hampshire, and all seemed incredibly young and energetic and whatever time of the morning or evening it was they were always bright and cheerful.
The food's delicious and the portions enormous. The watercress soufflé is not to be missed, neither are the risottos, nor the pork and crackling, nor the chocolate brownies... Someone remarked about the trip being about practising English, well, everyone certainly got good at ordering bacon and eggs(scrambled or fried) and brownies and ice cream by the end of the three days anyway.
(Bernard took this photo, yes, that is a moose head on the wall.)
And I just loved being in a good English country pub, loads of different beers, one big room doing everything, no division between restaurant and bar, trendy youngsters and elderly couples in for drinks and food, old regulars at the bar, women having coffee and cakes in the afternoon, dogs, kids (but not too many of those), a nice back courtyard with flowers and herbs in pots, being able to eavesdrop freely and people butting into each other's conversations and answering any question you cared to ask. It was enough to make me homesick.
Here's a view of it from the street, which Hervé cleverly managed to catch without too much traffic clutter, so he must have got out early to do that. Alresford is busy.
And here I am hurrying in, probably to get a beer, while Helli converses in the background with Jean-Paul, whom she referred to as Mr Beautiful-Hair. She couldn't remember everybody's names so we gave a few of them epithets. As you may see on the blackboard, the Bell won a Hampshire hospitality award, which is very well deserved.
Perhaps more on Alresford, and on epithets, later. If I haven't convinced you about how good The Bell is, hie on down there yourself and try it. You can even get there by steam train.