Ye Olde Bell, Retford – Restaurant Reviuew
Ye Olde Bell, Retford
By Richard Jones
Thanks to its location on the original Great North Road, midway between London and Edinburgh, and on the border of Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, Ye Olde Bell has been a haven for weary travellers for centuries.
And its signature eatery, the trendy art deco Restaurant Bar 1650, is adding another culinary chapter to the already distinguished history of the property in Barnby Moor near Retford.
The Bell, just a couple of minutes off the A1 between Retford and Doncaster, began life as a farm in days of stagecoaches and highwaymen during the 17th century. In 1835, the young Queen Victoria stayed at the lodgings with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, while a whole host of famous guests, including Charlie Chaplin, Bing Crosby, Oliver Reed, Joan Crawford, Sir Harold and Lady Wilson, Shirley Bassey and One Direction, have also rested their heads here down the years.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s the Bell was in its heyday, hosting popular dinner dances in its expansive function rooms. However, it eventually went into decline, and in 2002, current owners Paul and Hilary Levack, longstanding residents of Barnby Moor village, bought the freehold to the hotel before eventually taking over the management of the hotel entirely.
“First-class produce on its doorstep”
The Levacks regard themselves as custodians of Ye Olde Bell and it was paramount to both of them that the full-scale renovation and refurbishment they had planned was sympathetic to the heritage.
Nowadays, the luxurious Bell has regained its rightful reputation as the place to eat, stay and celebrate in the area, a point reflected in its AA 4-Star Rosette. What was previously a very traditional restaurant, Restaurant Bar 1650, which takes its name from the year the original building was created, is now a vibrant hub and was also recently awarded an AA Rosette.
Just like the hotel, 1650 makes the most of its location – in the rolling Nottinghamshire countryside – passionately supporting local farmers, butchers and bakers and producing mouth-wateringly fresh farm-to-table food.
And you can’t blame the owners for going down this route, with so much first-class produce on its doorstep – the Nottinghamshire Bramley apple and Stilton blue cheese, Lincolnshire sausage and spring vegetables, plus prime Yorkshire beef and puddings – why go elsewhere for your ingredients?
“Simple, yet exquisite and delicious”
My wife Rachel and I enjoy trying inventive new restaurants. But we also like a touch of the traditional, and the intentional lack of flash at 1650 makes for a perfect meal.
Its interior is warm, inviting and beautifully designed. Oak walls dominate the room, and gold-framed painting and candelabras add flourishes of history.
Food-wise, head Chef Tim Stamp and his talented team have devised an extensive menu. It takes its cue from the local harvest, containing creative dishes combined with classic and contemporary steaks, seafood and homemade pies.
After sipping on a refreshing glass of pinot grigio, we choose our starters. I go for the crunchy but tender honey roast pork bellies with girolles and pear cider gel. Rachel opts for the subtly smoked duck with spiced peanuts, prune and baby watercress. Both are impeccably presented and mouth-wateringly tasty alongside warm fresh artisan breads, local butter and balsamic vinegar.
For my main course I have the beef fillet from the ‘Chef Recommends’ menu. It comes with a pungent frozen blue cheese, burnt onion puree and confit potatoes. Rachel, meanwhile, tries the salmon with butter mussels, roast broccoli, seaweed and tomato puree. Again, both dishes are simple, yet exquisite and delicious.
Needless to say, we don’t have much room for dessert. But eventually we order the white chocolate and vanilla panacotta with blueberries and caramelised white chocolate. Plus, the custard tart with apple sorbet, aerated apple sponge and elderflower.
“Worth wandering into the hidden gardens”
The hospitality is first-class throughout the night. Vicky, our lovely and knowledgeable waitress, makes sure we can savour each course before the next arrives. She also shares her enthusiasm for the hotel and the restaurant’s mission. She reminds us how much a great server can add to a meal.
After we finish in 1650, Vicky is kind enough to take us for a tour of the hotel itself. For want of a better word, it is like a Tardis. Although from the outside it looks like your regular country pub/restaurant and hotel, step inside the Bell and you’ll find a maze of amazing rooms, suites and conference and wedding facilities.
We are shown around the iconic Victoria Suite, which is named after the monarch who stayed there. Plus, there’s the Lady Jane Grey Suite – apparently the ghost of the ‘Nine-Day Queen’ still haunts the grounds to this day. Even the bathrooms on the ground floor are fascinating. The entrance to the gents features a glass floor. It looks down on the remains of a recently unearthed Roman road on which the site was first built centuries ago.
Weather permitting, it is also worth wandering into the hidden gardens . Here you can sit in the stylish continental setting of the Mediterranean-style Terrace Bar.
Finally, in the Bell’s main St Leger Bar there’s an impressive selection of ales, including Yorkshire’s own Barnby Moor-ish. As its name suggests, it is full of racing memorabilia as a ‘nod’ to its history. You can’t help bet be reminded that Doncaster and Southwell racecourses are right on the Bell’s doorstep.
And it appears with the sensational Restaurant Bar 1650, the Lavacks have backed a dead cert.
Ye Olde Bell Hotel & Restaurant, Barnby Moor, Retford, Nottinghamshire, DN22 8QS