Local produce is at the heart of the Olde Bell, where executive chef Warren Geraghty has created a menu of simple, rustic food. Neil Gerrard went to visit
The Olde Bell, in the picturesque village of Hurley, outside Henley-on-Thames, bills itself as a "modern" coaching inn, with roots stretching back to the 12th century. These days, though, it's not coaches, but expensive Jags and BMWs belonging to well-to-do foodies from local towns like Henley, Marlow and Bray, as well as the odd culinary adventurer and a celebrity or two, that perch on verges outside the restaurant.
And although the place is steeped in history - once serving as the site of a plot to overthrow the monarchy and, later, a meeting place between Churchill and Eisenhower - the regime in the kitchen is relatively new. Executive chef Warren Geraghty, head chef James Ferguson and pastry chef Jason Farr were all appointed last September, tasked with creating a menu offering simple, rustic food using seasonal and local ingredients for the Olde Bell, which is owned by entrepreneur Tej Dhillon's Dhillon Group.
Geraghty, who has worked with chefs such as Marco Pierre White and Richard Neat, came to the new role from a restaurant called West, in Vancouver. "When I saw this place I realised the potential of it is just stunning," he says. That potential takes the form of a 60-seat restaurant with seating for 60 on the terrace and a further 50 in the garden - all attached to a 50-bedroom hotel.
With the sun shining, Geraghty also plans to put out picnic blankets in the garden. "We will have a summer kitchen, which will open with a rôtisserie, a grill, and a Kamado-style Big Green Egg oven. At the height of summer, if we add in weddings, the garden, and the restaurant, we could do 400 covers per day," he says.
As for the menu, Geraghty says it will be "completely ingredient-led". "I know the seasonality thing is bandied around a lot now, but it is something we absolutely believe in," he says. "As we get the kitchen garden together and the menu progresses through June and July, it will be based around what we get out of the garden and local suppliers."
That means all the pork, such as the meat used in the roast Tamworth pork belly with a Puy lentil salad (£17.20), comes from the local Paddock Farm. And when it isn't possible to source hyper-locally for quality ingredients - with seafood, for example - Geraghty places the emphasis on freshness.
Fish dishes such as grey megrim sole with brown shrimps, crushed Jersey Royals and sea purslane (£17.80) come from dayboats in Brixham, Devon, with sea purslane foraged from the Kent coast. "We pan-fry the fish very gently, with some butter, black garlic crushed under a fork, Morecambe brown shrimps and then we put in a good handful of sea purslane, which gives you that nice salty pop with each mouthful," Geraghty explains.
The executive chef and his brigade of 12 - swelling to 15 in the summer - also turn their hand to foraging for ingredients like chickweed, wild garlic, jelly ears, and nettles, depending on the season. The ingredients then find their way into dishes like vegetable, wild garlic and white bean soup (£4.95), and roasted roots and onions, tossed in a vinaigrette with forest chickweed, with goats' curd and candied walnuts (£5.80).
And, as Geraghty says, the presence of foraged or home-grown produce on the menu is only going to increase. "We will be 25-30% self-sufficient this year and working towards 40-50% self-sufficient next year. We have got a big garden, a huge orchard and a big potato crop. We really do believe in the quality of the ingredient."
Sample dishes from the menu
Diver-caught Cornish scallops, cauliflower, pepper wort £9.60 Black treacle and dill-cured organic sea trout, beetroot and blood orange salad £6.80 Pressed ham hock and spring vegetable terrine, piccalilli £6.50
Onglet steak, grilled potatoes, watercress, red wine, and shallot vinaigrette £18.20 Aylesbury duck breast, smoked bacon, radishes, pearl barley £17.20 Braised ox cheek, roast butternut squash, pickled walnuts £16.60
Treacle tart, clotted cream £6.50 Rhubarb trifle £6.50 Bitter chocolate mousse, chocolate ice-cream £6
The Olde Bell High Street, Hurley, Berkshire SL6 5LX
http://www.theoldebell.co.uk" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">www.theoldebell.co.uk