Tucked away amid the beautiful Cotswold countryside, the oldest hotel in England, the Old Bell Hotel, oozes historical sophistication through and through. From the divine portraits hanging on the walls, to the deluxe country decor that seamlessly runs from restaurant to room, and the delightful window views of the 12th Century Abbey, a sophisticated, yet countrified ambience is the one that restaurant goers can expect to enjoy at the Old Bell Hotel.
First to unwind at the bar... My partner Ed opted for a pint of local cider whilst I enjoyed a delightful valentines themed cocktail that truly set the tone for the evening. Made with vodka, strawberry, grenadine sugar syrup and champagne, this cocktail not only tasted delicious, but looked beautiful. The heart shaped strawberry placed on the edge of the glass was particularly endearing, as was the sentiment of drinking this cocktail beside the comfort of a roaring fire.
After my partner and I enjoyed a leisurely drink, we moved through to the restaurant. The restaurant was quite simply charming with a romantic ambience to match the occasion, though I'm confident the same mood would be generated on any evening at the Old Bell, no matter the occasion. The table was dressed in an elegant, yet simplistic manner which perfectly matched the valentines set menu. This set menu consisted of a complimentary glass of cava, amuse bouche, a choice of three dishes to choose from for starter and main, and a choice of two dishes to choose from for dessert.
For starters, I opted for the 'Pressed Wiltshire ham, cider and black pudding terrine, parsnip and sage bon-bon, apple chutney and toasted focaccia'. Though a mouthful by name, this dish was quite the opposite in terms of presentation with the terrine being served in delicate triangle slices accompanied by a slim slice of focaccia and garnishes. Despite this minimalist approach, the flavours of this dish were delightfully rich and smoky, allowing for a taste of Wilshire to be enjoyed with each bite.
For main, the '10-hour slow cooked lamb shoulder, capers and shallots, creamed potatoes, roast heritage carrots, fennel seeds and pancetta' tickled my fancy. Tremendously tender, the lamb meat simply slid off the shoulder by the gentle prod of a knife, with the rich jus, creamy mash and crunchy carrots perfectly accompanying both in taste and texture.
For dessert, I was torn between the two choices available on the set menu, eventually opting for the 'Caramelised vanilla custard tart, smoked butter caramel and vanilla ice cream' as it sounded the simpler dish to satisfy after a rich starter and main. The pastry was perfectly baked, crispy and buttery all at once, holding the creamy custard filling perfectly.
As for the staff, they were attentive and thoroughly welcoming, providing a professional table service throughout the evening with a smile.
The Old Bell is a must for anyone looking for a fine dining experience with a country twist. My partner and I thoroughly look forward to returning and trying dishes from the a la carte menu which sounds even more glorious than the valentines set menu!
The Old Bell Hotel, Abbey Row, Malmesbury, SN16 0BW