In the last days of the summer holidays, my mum kindly took the boys for a couple of days and Adrian and I had the chance to check out some of the less child-friendly pubs in the area. I’ve had my eye on The Olde Bell in Hurley for a while now but their menu was best left for a fine-dining kind of night. OK, so we didn’t have an evening of chilled-out sophistication mapped out, in fact, we had a meeting with a mortgage broker at 8pm, so we had an hour to eat. But then, we’ve always been the eat-and-run type.
As usual we ate early, and so there weren’t many people in the restaurant part of the pub. As soon as we stepped into the dining hall I was impressed with the look and feel of the place. I discovered it was because designer Isle Crawford was responsible for the very unique rustic yet luxuriant aesthetic of the Olde Bell. But let’s get to the food. Keep in mind with my reviews, I don’t go out with the intention of blogging, so it means that I don’t talk to the chef, I don’t wander the grounds with a discerning eye, I don’t get my meal for free and I don’t order three courses unless I’m feeling particularly greedy. I have the same experience that anybody else is likely to have and while it might make my reviews slightly less informed, they come from the heart.
We skipped starters in favour of dessert, as we usually do when it’s not an anniversary or in the case that we can’t find a reasonable excuse for three courses. AT went for the haunch of venison suet pudding with mashed potato, carrot and swede. I had the pork belly with barley and bacon risotto. AT’s deer pie was exactly as he’d hoped for, a rich and crumbly suet crust around a luxuriant, flavoursome filling. My pork belly was nothing like I expected. The crackling came in the form of a strip balanced on top of a piece of pork that looked more like a loin. But it didn’t take away from the dish being very fine indeed and wonderfully, excessively porky. The barley made a pleasant alternative to rice and if I was still in the habit of cooking risottos, I’d be stocking up on this underrated grain for winter.
I know this is breaking the cardinal rule of reviewing, but like I said, when I eat out, my first priority is enjoyment. Instead of opting for two different desserts, after much discussion with the waiter we decided that we’d both get the cheesecake. My usual creme brulee yard stick was thrown in favour of another test for quality that I use. A good cheesecake base is very rare in this modern age of foams, fondants and pudding-based fripperies. I know cheesecake isn’t on-trend but it’s one of my all time favourite sweets. The white chocolate and vanilla cheesecake at The Olde Bell is one of those desserts that makes me go all misty-eyed just thinking about it. Not only did it have a perfectly pleasing biscuit-base but it also possessed a cream-cheese flavour that many supposed-cheesecakes forgo these days in favour of a lighter, more miscellaneous dairy quality.
Thumbs up on all accounts at The Olde Bell. I had a lovely cold rose on what turned out to be the last of the summer warmth and the bread and butter served on arrival, while a tad miserly, was of good quality. Together with excellent service, our meal was pricey, but worth the money in our opinion. If you’re looking for fine dining in a secluded spot, away from the usual suspects on the Thames, then The Olde Bell at Hurley is an excellent choice.