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DING DONG! Bell's Diner

Bell’s Diner has been quietly going about its business in Montpelier (a somewhat less than trendy corner of Bristol) for decades. Despite changes of ownership and menu style over the years, Bell’s continues to qualify as a neighbourhood gem. As ever, longevity makes for a confident restaurant – and it was the perfect venue for the Guild of Foodwriters’ “West Country” lunch. Happily the Guild get together took place on the same day as the Radio Four Food and Farming Awards, (also held in Bristol) and it was a suitably refreshed gaggle of Foodwriters who made their way to St George’s Hall that evening.
Bell’s is a comfortable, unpretentious restaurant with three interconnecting dining rooms, the décor is unfussy and the welcome warm. There is a wine list quirky enough to secure the attention of the wine experts in attendance, plus some moody craft beers served in 1/3rd measures. The cooking style could be summed up as tapas with attitude. Dishes are simple but well thought through and there is an overall commitment to fresh flavours and seasonal ingredients. The pricing is forgiving plates range from £3 to £8; which creates a very real temptation to over order. The bread is excellent, sourdough with a good crust. The jamon Iberico butter is ambrosial – pink, piggy, rich and delicious. Add an order of the rather good pickles and it would be quite feasible to lunch solely on bread and
butter. But then you would be missing out on some good dishes like the “buffalo mozzarella, celery, fennel and mint”; the salt cod fritters with aioli; baby gem with anchovy and Parmesan dressing; the charcoal grilled salt and pepper prawns; or the “sautéed lambs’ sweetbreads with new season’s garlic puree and fresh morels”. A grand dish and accurately cooked, the contrasting textures of the sweetbreads and the morels nicely balanced. The “spinach, goats’ curd and sourdough dumplings with sage butter” manage to be light and substantial at the same time. Also worthy of note is the “braised rabbit leg with fresh peas, mint and morcilla”. As well as a smattering of desserts, and a selection of three decent British cheeses, Bell’s offers home made ice cream. Tonka bean; mint chocolate chip; toasted marshmallow; vanilla, pistachio; chocolate caramel; and a gin and cucumber sorbet. While it is hard to see the point of Tonka bean ice cream, the mint chocolate chip is excellent and made with excellent bitter chocolate. Bell’s Diner is pretty much of a template for how a neighbourhood restaurant should be, friendly service, gentle prices, fresh food, skilful kitchen… it will be no surprise if it continues for decades to come.

Bell’s Diner, 1 York Road, Montpelier, Bristol BS6 5QB (0117 924 0357)

Charles Campion - Monday 5th May 2014

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