An unexpected visitor meant a major change of plans, and all for the good.
A knock on the door and my daughter’s partner stood there, calling in as he was passing. Since Sian lives in Hove and we live in Cwmbran “just passing” may seem unlikely, but Adie had been in Carmarthen seeing a client so on his way back he was actually passing.
Problem it’s lunchtime and I had not baked - so not even a sandwich was on offer.
This, however, was an opportunity not a problem. Ever since the Newport Food Festival Supper I had The Bell at Caerleon on my list of places to visit.
The Bell had provided starters and the Scotch Egg with Cider was to die for. “Fancy lunch in a really good pub?” I asked and we decamped for cars and the short drive to Caerleon.
Just out of town The Bell is a real pub in the way that those in the centre cannot be, depending on hordes of office parties and Friday night “revellers”.
The Bell is serious, not just about food but also Beer – CAMRA rate it highly and Cider, an award winning Cider destination. Certainly cider would be on the menu along with food.
Settled quickly and with a pint of Hallets cider (6%) and brewed in Crumlin, I perused the menu.
The Bell offers lunch for only £9.95, two courses, and believe me choosing was hard so much good food on offer.
It had to be the Scotch Egg as a starter as it had so impressed me at NFF and I had recommended it to our visitor. A Gwynt y Ddraig Cider infused sausage meat, cooked to soft perfection in a crispy breadcrumb coating and a perfectly runny egg served with a little salad, bruschetta and a home-made salad cream, what’s not to like. Really good said Adie, the best I’ve ever had.
Janet didn't repeat her NFF experience where she had the Field Mushroom and Blue Cheese Salad but went with the chargrilled goat cheese and vegetable gateaux, served with three sauces (Balsmic Glaze, Basil Oil and Red Pepper Coulis) declaring it YUM (her highest accolade).
We all chose different main courses, and given the menu we could have chosen several times over.
Adie went for the Gammon with fried egg, Janet for the Rump Steak Ciabatta with Caramelised onions and for me it was Sausage of the day with Mash.
A good sized horseshoe of gammon topped with an orange yolked egg and chips was rated highly by Adie who announced that he would certainly eat here again and would also recommend The Bell to people who were in or visiting the Newport or Cardiff areas.
Janet’s rump steak cooked perfectly rare and served with a small salad and chips was equally well received and, at her insistence, I tried one of the chips. A crisp light golden exterior hid a fluffy floury interior which matched any chip I have ever eaten and made me wish that there was a Sausage and Chips option on the menu.
Three sausages on a bed of mash with carrots and beans on the side awaited me. I like the idea of Sausage of the Day, it implies a range of sausages will be used and that the same dish will vary each time you eat it. That has to be good.
Mine were quite coarse in texture with a good herby background and obviously “real butcher” sausages not the bland euro-snag that all too often appears. They matched the creamy mash well and the little onion gravy set the dish off
As it was lunchtime not too much alcohol was consumed, my Hallets was the only one but it went very well with both courses and is certainly a pint that I will try again. Hallets only make two ciders, the other being their Vintage which is aged a year before bottling. That has to be my next port of call.
So to sum up the Bell: Quite rightly described as a Gastropub, a good range of real ales and ciders on offer, pleasant surroundings and a menu that is seasonal and local, simple and well cooked.
Will I be back, you betcha and –with the amazing lunchtime deal - it might just have to be lunch again until the entre menu has been sampled.
Finally a recipe for Salad Cream.
Most pubs/restaurants serve mayonnaise or the ubiquitous Heinz so it was a real treat to find that the Bell made its own Salad Cream. Here is the recipe for Shanagarry Salad Dressing which we made at Ballymaloe:
2 eggs (free range if possible)
1 tablespoon of dark, soft brown sugar
a pinch of salt
1 level teaspoon of dry mustard
1 tablespoon brown malt vinegar
2 to 4 fluid ounces of cream
Boil the eggs for 7 minutes then cool in cold water before shelling.
Cut the two eggs in half and sieve the yolks into a bowl.
Add the sugar, a pinch of salt and the mustard. Blend in the vinegar and cream. Chop the egg whites finely and add some to the sauce. (any spare whites can be used to sprinkle over salads as a garnish.)
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