Giles Coren seems to have assumed the mantle of the late A.A. Gill. His restaurant reviews- not always polite, so amusingly bitchy, and sometimes so fulsome that one can only envy his luck and the deep pockets of his newspaper. His latest obsession is churchyards, which lure him to neighbouring pubs, such as The Bell in Langford, in the Cotswolds. The chef, Tom Noest, apparently makes marrow on toast which is so exceptional that it’s the best thing Giles has ever tasted.
Well, this had to be explored, so Jill and I booked a table for lunch early in the week. Apparently thanks to the review weekends are booked up until Easter. The Bell is not far from Burford and on a B road towards Lechlade, passing through villages like Filkins, which look as Squirrel Nutkin as they sound. Cosy cottages and grander houses, wisteria and roses round the door, windows all uniformly Farrow and Ball sage green or grey, everything in this winter season contained indoors where thousands of wood burners enrich the atmosphere with carbon. “Imagine living here- I’d sooner be dead” says Jill. “Can you imagine the blue rinses? The W.I.? The pettiness?”.
Gentlemen farmers thank us handsomely when I stop for their nags. Not a shop, litter or plastic toy in sight. Everyone seems to have repaired to the Bell Inn for a Tuesday lunch.
It is jam packed, with the statutory open fire, flagstone floor and wooden tables packed close and customers talking loudly about which field to plough- the posh end of the Archers. While we wait to be noticed for our order a rather ghastly scene erupts at the next table. One of those tight lipped country dwelling privileged matrons throws a tantrum at the waitress, berating the poor child like a harpy. She flings down her napkin and storms out followed by a portly, red faced husband who gives anguished glances at the kidneys on toast he is forsaking. Oh dear. No one else gives them a first or second glance, being too engrossed in their own loud conversation which bangs round the small room like in a reverberating tin barrel.
Half an hour of people watching later we order- calves liver (or awful offal as it used to be called) and mash, and two starters for me: chowder and half a pint of prawns, which Giles has raved about. The food is good and the pudding (a chocolate cakey moussey thing) very good. The coffee is fine. The bill, without any drinks, was £42, not quite a bargain as Giles would have you think.
It is very much a formula, which will work until the punters get bored of it: do up a country pub in a wealthy neighbourhood with lots of Farrow and Ball decor, light a fire, have a menu with pizza and nursery food and the coffers will soon be full. A bit depressing, a bit same-y.
And Giles, you don’t always get it right. The last time I listened to your recommendation was an Asian fusion place down the road from me. “I want something without MSG?” I queried. “No can do. Everything has MSG.” “Maybe the chef could leave it out just for me?” “No can do. All dishes made in Singapore and flown over here.”
So much for the fulsome review. He should have talked to the manager first, but people believe him and that’s a kind of fake news and views.